Senators want task force stripped of funds on red-tagging

Several senators on Thursday sought to deprive a national task force against communism of its budget after an official linked an organizer of community pantries to Maoist rebels.

“We should move to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in the next budget,” Senator Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva tweeted late Wednesday. “The people’s money will just go to waste.”

He said the agency’s P19-billion budget should instead be used as cash aid to poor Filipinos affected by a coronavirus pandemic.

“I agree,” Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian replied in a tweet. “If these are the kind of people who will spend hard earned taxpayer’s money, then it’s not worth it.”

Agency spokesman Antonio G. Parlade, Jr. on Tuesday likened in a Cignal TV interview the community pantry efforts of organizer Ana Patricia Non to Satan tempting Eve with the forbidden fruit.

A community pantry offers free food such as rice, noodles and canned goods for free to the poor, while accepting donations from those who can afford these.

Ms. Non in a Facebook post on Tuesday said the community pantry that she started would be closed that day after they were linked to communist rebels.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Villanueva said his call for the realignment of the agency’s budget “conforms to the existing budget practice of realigning scarce funds to where these are more needed.”

“It is also not giving  comfort to the armed enemies. It is simply giving aid to our hungry people,” he said.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel supported the call, noting that they have tried to cut its budget during hearings last year.

“And if there are already calls from the rest of the Senate not to fund them, I will gladly support that again,” she told an online news briefing.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III rejected the call. “Defunding it would give back the gains of the government to the rebels,” he said in a Viber group message.

“We should not be hasty in blaming a good program because of irresponsible statements from some officials. Replace the officials instead.”

Ms. Hontiveros on Thursday also filed a resolution condemning the red-tagging of community pantries by government officials.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said the task force’s budget should be given to the poor instead.

He also sought the passage of the bill he filed seeking to penalize red-tagging with a 10-year jail term.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said police collecting personal data of community pantry organizers could face charges of violating the Data Privacy Act.

He also said a person who solicits funds for charity but fails to account for it and later ends the activity is not liable for any offense “unless fraud was employed.”

Also on Thursday, Mr. Guevarra said he had met with the families of the Southern Tagalog raids victims and with the wife of slain labor rights activist Dandy Miguel.

He said he assured the victims’ families that they would get to the bottom of the killings.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary-General Renato M. Reyes, who came with the families, said they “found the meeting very encouraging as the process of investigation as well as the participation of witnesses was clarified.”

“The survivors and witnesses also expressed fear for their safety as their communities are militarized. This should be addressed in the course of the investigation,” he said.

Police killed nine activists during a March 7 raid in Southern Tagalog. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Bianca Angelica D. Añago

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