The news was jolting enough: A daughter of a lawmaker who had joined the New People’s Army was killed in a clash between the military and the rebel group. But more jolting was what happened after: According to reports, after Jevilyn Cullamat, 22, the daughter of Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, died in the encounter in Surigao del Sur province over the weekend, the military shared a photo of soldiers posing with Jevilyn’s body alongside what it said were captured firearms and communist flags found after the clash.
The photo was taken down later amid protests by several quarters, including the Commission on Human Rights, which described the soldiers’ action as “deplorable,” and said it would investigate the incident.
The soldiers had no reason to preen over Jevilyn’s body as she was obviously a soft target, being “an NPA medic and not a combatant,” protested Rep. Edcel Lagman.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it was “normal” for the military to show the bodies of enemies killed in encounters, among them the Abu Sayyaf and Muslim rebels. At the same time, however, he appeared troubled enough about the incident, promising that the government would study how to protect the “dignity and privacy of families” in similar incidents in the future.
In a statement that contradicted Lorenzana, the Armed Forces of the Philippines denied that it was AFP policy “to pass a photo like that.” AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo dismissed accusations that they had used the remains of Jevilyn as a war trophy, and likewise vowed to look into how the disturbing photo was released.
Despite protestations that it had acted properly in treating a slain combatant, the government lost no time in citing Jevilyn’s death as further proof of the alleged ties between the Makabayan bloc in Congress and the NPA, with Representative Cullamat and her slain daughter as Exhibit A.
Recent weeks have seen the red-tagging of a broad range of personalities, from actresses and beauty queens to activists and lawmakers, the only common denominator among them apparently the fact that they had spoken out against government policies, leading the Senate to hold a hearing Tuesday on the rampant practice.
President Duterte himself waded into the fray in his speech on Monday, directing his fire this time at leftist lawmakers. “We are not red-tagging you. We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal fronts you have organized headed by the (National Democratic Front) and the New People’s Army,” he thundered during his weekly public address meant to be an update on the government’s response to the pandemic.
The President’s animus toward the Left and the rebel movement has been a curious 180-degree turn from his previous stance as a friend of the NPA when he was Davao City mayor. In 2013, asked by Davao business leaders about the NPA’s revolutionary tax, Mr. Duterte responded: “I cannot put it to a stop. So factor that in your investments. If you pay to the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue), you prepare also for the NPA.”
Then, at least, he sounded sympathetic to the idea of why some citizens take up arms against the state: “You have to realize the Communist Party is entering its 45th year,” he said at the same forum. “You have to admit there’s been historical injustice committed on the people.” And he disclosed that he was on cordial terms with the rebels in his domain: “You give credit to these revolutionaries, you can easily exchange words and deal with them.”
In the hero’s burial that he allowed for slain NPA leader Leoncio Pitao, known by his underground name as Commander Parago, in July 2015, then Mayor
Duterte publicly declared he was not against the NPA and its objectives — “I am not against you. I will not fight against you. We have the same view of the government and politics” — while adding, to be clear, that he did not subscribe to armed struggle. However, should he be elected President, he vowed that “(The NPA) would be able to set foot on Malacañang. One foot of the NPA would be in Malacañang.”
In September 2016, Mr. Duterte hosted a dinner in the Palace for what he himself described as the “entire communist hierarchy,” after which the group posed for photos doing the Duterte fist sign.
All of that is now conveniently forgotten as Mr. Duterte’s administration, in its effort to exterminate the insurgency, has cast its net wide against citizens of various persuasions whom it labels and targets indiscriminately as “communists,” “conspirators,” “subversives, “terrorists,” and the like. What’s most dissonant about this campaign, of course, is that even as the government furiously sees red among its people, it has been all but accommodating and deferential to the biggest reds in this part of the world: the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. What is the country missing here?
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