MANILA - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday challenged the leftist Makabayan bloc to condemn alleged atrocities of the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army (CPP-NPA).
During the defense department's briefing of the House Appropriations committee on its proposed 2020 budget, Lorenzana said the Department of Defense had proof that the CPP-NPA was using Makabayan-linked groups to strengthen its ranks.
The Makabayan bloc is composed of sectoral representatives from Bayan Muna, Kabataan, ACT Teachers, and Gabriela.
“We have proof. We have evidence that the Makabayan org(anizations) are being used by CPP-NPA to strengthen their ranks,” Lorenzana told Makabayan solons.
“Condemn the CPP-NPA, stop these atrocities. Condemn 'yung armed struggle na sinasabi ni Jose Maria Sison and we will also stop (Condemn the armed struggle that Jose Maria Sison is saying and we will also stop),” he said, referring to the CPP founder long exiled in the Netherlands.
He made the challenge after Makabayan solons called out the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for allegedly red-tagging Makabayan organizations and calling them "terrorists."
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate rejected Lorenzana’s challenge, saying the DND is seeking congressional approval for a budget they could use in vilifying minority lawmakers.
“Problema ng defense department is they have been vilifying us. They have been campaigning against us even during the election,” Zarate said.
"Gusto natin baliktarin ang sitwasyon. Kayo itong pumupunta rito. Sino ba humihingi ng budget sa Kongreso (We want to reverse the situation. You are the ones who came here. Who is asking Congress for your budget)? You will justify labelling us and putting our lives in danger?" he added.
Earlier in the briefing, Lorenzana claimed the Makabayan bloc is present in leftist rallies and that they have been silent on the CPP-NPA's "atrocities."
“Tuwing may mga rally diyan na manggugulo, kasama 'yung Makabayan (Whenever there are rallies that become disorderly, Makabayan is present),” Lorenzana claimed, saying CPP-NPA flags are present in the bloc's rallies.
He said this was why the DND and the military could not help but assume that the CPP-NPA and the bloc support each other.
“Joining rallies per se is not a crime. I myself support the activism of students. But when the students cross the line to join armed struggle to violently overthrow the government, iba na po 'yun because nakikita namin diyan pag nagra-rally diyan mayroong flag ng CPP-NPA (that's something else because we see a CPP-NPA flag in the rallies). Ang pagkakaintindi namin doon (By how we understand it) they are supporting the CPP-NPA," Lorenzana said.
Makabayan lawmakers lashed out at Lorenzana's statement, saying the DND "appears to be treating combatants and noncombatants alike."
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago said the statement "implies joining rallies is tantamount to joining the communists or waging armed resistance."
“Para ho kayong nagwi-witch hunt sa lahat ng kabataan,” said Elago.
(It's like you are undertaking a witch hunt among the youth.)
A Senate panel recently held hearings on the alleged recruitment of leftist groups in schools, with some parents appearing to plead for their children's return.
ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro added "the DND and AFP assume all protesters are terrorists." Zarate also took exception to Lorenzana's claim, saying the government has no proof, only an "intense vilification campaign."
Lorenzana and the Makabayan bloc also exchanged a flurry of words over the defense department and military's request for a P258-billion budget, which Zarate criticized as a "war budget."
"It's a war budget. War against the rebellion and even war against drugs and so makikita natin ito tumaas (we see it increased),” Zarate said.
But Lorenzana said the military needs resources for its plans to reduce the CPP-NPA to a “bare-minimum” as the communist insurgency in the country is not yet over.
Peace negotiations between communist rebels and the government had earlier collapsed.
In December, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the creation of a national task force that would seek the “end” of the armed conflict involving communist rebels.