President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday accused militant lawmakers in Congress of belonging to so-called legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines and serving as "co-conspirators" in efforts to overthrow the government.
This developed as the death of the daughter of Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Eufemia Campos Cullamat in a clash between the New People's Army and government forces in Surigao Del Sur over the weekend highlights the “senseless conflict” being waged by communists, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
Duterte, who mentioned Cullamat’s death in his televised briefing, said members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives are not being red-tagged but are merely being identified as CPP fronts.
"We are not tagging you. We are identifying you as communists," said the President who previously enjoyed the support of leftist groups when he was still mayor of Davao City and even appointed four left-leaning individuals to his Cabinet in the first year of his administration.
"The liability of a mere soldier is the liability of the entire organization... All these legal fronts, they are all communists - Makabayan, Bayan, they are all legal fronts, Gabriela."
"We are not red-tagging you. We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal fronts they have organized headed by NDF (National Democratic Front), the New People's Army, and the Communist Party of the Philippines," he added.
In particular, he identified Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate as being part of the CPP-NDF.
"Members of Congress are part of this. This Congressman Zarate, you are a co-conspirator. You are a communist. I know that from way back. Let's unmask everything now," the President said.
Zarate earlier called for accountability following the red-tagging of members of the Makabayan bloc, which is composed of party-list groups Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kabataan and Alliance of Concerned Teachers.
Formal peace negotiations between the government and the CPP-NDF were terminated by the President in November 2017.
In December 2017, Duterte signed a proclamation declaring the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group and directed the Department of Justice to begin a proscription case before the proper court.
The government, however, has yet to successfully proscribe the CPP-NPA under the 2007 Human Security Act, with the case pending before a regional trial court in Manila.
On Sunday, Lorenzana said in a statement: "The death of 22-year-old armed rebel Jevilyn Cullamat during an encounter between the NPA and government forces is a grim reminder of the effects of the fruitless armed conflict perpetrated by these communist terrorist groups."
But the soldiers who posed in front of the body of Jevilyn Cullamat had committed a war crime, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said on Monday.
The Commission on Human Rights also slammed the military for using the dead photos of the younger Cullamat in an apparent display of victory.
But Lorenzana said linking the progressive group Makabayan Bloc to the Communist Party of the Philippines’ armed group already has basis following Cullamat’s death.
"Actually, dahil sa nangyari ngayon, anak pa ng congresswoman na Makabayan 'yung namatay... 'yung red-tagging namin ay may basis ano. May basis na sila ay sumusuporta, 'yung Makabayan, sinusuportahan nila itong CPP-NPA at saka 'yung tinatawag na armed struggle ng NPA," Lorenzana said in an ambush interview.
Bayan Muna’s Zarate, however, said the killing of Cullamat is not evidence that would link the Makabayan Bloc to communist rebels.
Zarate said he and his fellow Makabayan lawmakers are already bracing for this "propaganda" of the military to intensify the red-tagging and terrorist-tagging against them.
"Pinaghahandaan namin yun dahil palalabasin na naman nila, sasabihin na naman nila kahit walang basehan na ito nga ay ebidensya na kami ay prente ng underground movement," he said.
Jevilyn was killed in a 45-minute encounter between Special Forces soldiers and suspected communist rebels in Surigao del Sur on Sunday. The military said she was a medic of the NPA.
Lawyer Jaqueline Ann de Guia, CHR spokesperson, said: “It is a cause for concern when representatives of the government treat the death of another Filipino as victory. Time and again, we have condemned armed conflict because, in the end, nobody really wins, especially when it leads to ruined lives and communities.”
The CHR reacted after soldiers posted photographs of the slain Cullamat beside seized firearms and communist flags.
Lorenzana said members of the Philippine Army's 3rd Special Force Battalion immediately evacuated the younger Cullamat's body from the encounter site in the hinterlands of Barangay San Isidro, Marihatag, Surigao del Sur, on Saturday afternoon.
"The military has also readily coordinated and provided transportation as well as security assistance to the Cullamat family. I have instructed the responding units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to ensure that the NPA casualty is treated with dignity," he said.
Lorenzana called on Makabayan bloc representatives and all those who condone the atrocities committed by the NPA to denounce the divisive ideology that destroys the lives and property of fellow Filipinos.
"Let this incident bring to the fore the duplicity of the communist terrorist movement whose members in the higher echelons pit Filipinos against fellow Filipinos," Lorenzana said.
The public, he said, could rest assured that Filipino troops would remain vigilant and ready to defend communities against the communist terrorists whose only goal was to sow hatred and violence.
In another interview Monday, Lorenzana said the communists seemed not to care about the deaths of the students and others they had recruited in their senseless fight.
"It seems they do not have any concern for those students and former students who die after joining the NPA because they have recruited many of them. It seems to me that they do not care if these people die for as long as they can pursue their so-called armed struggle," he said.
Lorenzana, meanwhile, condoled with the Cullamat family over the death of Jevilyn.
"Losing the young is a tragedy in itself but losing them in a senseless war being waged by the NPA against the government is an even greater tragedy. This killing of our youth will continue until their recruitment in or out of school is stopped. I call on all parents to be vigilant to prevent their children from being recruited. I also call on the Makabayan bloc to stop supporting the CPP/NPA and denounce the NPA, who have left a trail of death and destruction all over the country for more than 50 years. Let us unite for our country."
Meanwhile, AFP spokesman Edgard Arevalo, in a statement late Sunday, said the military condoles with the Cullamat family following the death of Jevilyn.
"The AFP deeply condoles with Congresswoman Eufemia Cullamat and her family for the demise of her youngest daughter Jevilyn Cullamat, 22 years old, an NPA combatant who died in an armed encounter with government security forces around 4 p.m. of 28 November 2020 in Barangay San Isidro, Marihatag, Surigao del Sur," he said.
"We grieve deeply with the Bayan Muna Representative and her family as we would for many Filipino families — including soldiers — who have lost a father, a mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, or kin who died in these more than five decades of fighting."
Arevalo also denied allegations that the body of Jevilyn was used as a trophy.
"The photo was taken for reporting and documentation purposes that is required after every encounter. It was not meant to scoff at the dead or demean the remains whose identity is not known to the soldiers," he said.