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Philippines balks at UN rapporteur call to abolish NTF-ELCAC

The Philippines on Friday rejected a recommendation of a visiting United Nations special rapporteur to abolish a counter-insurgency task force, citing the government’s progress in quashing decades-old rebellion and the weakening of armed guerillas.

Jonathan Malaya, Assistant Director General of the National Security Council, said it would “not be proper at this time” to abolish the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC given two supervening events, such as the government’s “strategic victory” over the New People’s Army and the exploratory peace talks with the Communist People’s Party-NPA-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

“The NTF-ELCAC has been the game-changer in the government’s fight against communist terrorism,” Malaya told a press briefing.

“Please take note that this is a 52-year old running insurgency. Now that we have reached this stage in the campaign, we feel it is improper to call for its abolition.”

Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, called the Task Force “outdated” and stressed that it “does not take into account the ongoing prospects for peace negotiations.”

“The abolition will allow for a more inclusive peace-making platform or platforms with participation of women peacemakers and communities as a genuine whole of nation approach to peace,” Khan said at a separate press conference at the end of her 10-day mission to the country, where she met various stakeholders and government officials.

Khan also raised concerns on the issue of “red-tagging” or linking activists and human rights defenders to insurgents, saying this endangers their life and security.

NTF-ELCAC was established in December 2018 by former President Rodrigo Duterte to end communist insurgency in the country - considered Asia’s longest. A number of individuals, non-government workers, and activists who publicly opposed Duterte’s policies have been “red-tagged” while the NTF-ELCAC was being implemented during the former Philippine leader’s administration.

Malaya said Philippine officials conveyed to Khan that the government does not have a policy on red-tagging.

“We do not condone or encourage red-tagging,” he said. “We said there are legal remedies available for people who feel that they are aggrieved by red-tagging.”

Established in 1969, the New People's Army over the years had been a key national security threat, but Malaya claimed that only 11 guerilla fronts exist and have already been “weakened,” adding that 1,500 armed regulars of the Maoist rebel group have remained.

Philippine officials, Malaya added, also conveyed to Khan in their meeting that the NTF-ELCAC will eventually transition to a peace and development entity “since we expect that the remaining guerilla fronts will be dismantled before the end of the year.”

“We told her that given the successes in the anti-insurgency campaign, the NTF-ELCAC’s roadmap is to transition to a different body which is the national task force on unity peace and development,” Malaya said.

The rebellion, he said, has left 40,000 civilians and combatants dead and has impeded economic development in several regions across the country.

“It would be best, if necessary, to undertake the transition now that we’re winning,” Malaya said. “We relayed that to her and said she will consider following these recommendations of the Philippine government once she completes her report.” —AOL, GMA Integrated News