MANILA (UPDATE) - Some senators on Thursday urged Malacañang to remove Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. from the government's anti-communist task force after he likened a community pantry organizer's effort to "Satan giving apple to Eve."
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) "should be defanged" of "irresponsible thinking officials," Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters in a text message.
"I believe the NTF-ELCAC program is good... We should not be hasty in blaming a good program because of irresponsible statements from some officials. Replace the officials instead," he said.
"Kapag ayaw tanggalin at saksakan ng lakas sa Palasyo, then defunding is the recourse," he said.
(If the Palace refuses to remove them due to some connection, then defunding is the recourse.)
Senators Joel Villanueva and Sherwin Gatchalian earlier said the panel's P19-billion budget should be reallocated to COVID-19 related programs next year after Parlade's tirades against community pantry organizers.
Parlade has been destroying the Armed Forces of the Philippines' image as a responsible and professional institution, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.
"Kung sa ganyang baluktot na pagiisip at palakad napupunta ang P19 bilyong pisong budget ng NTF-ELCAC ay dapat bawiin na ito at ibigay sa ayuda ng mahihirap," he said.
(If the P19 billion budget of the NTF-ELCAC is being used in that kind of crooked logic, the fund should be reallocated to aid the poor instead.)
The NTF-ELCAC should be involved in useful COVID-19 programs instead of spending tax payers money on propagating baseless accusations against charity workers, Sen. Nancy Binay said.
"Since kinakapos nga tayo sa pandemic response, baka mas maigi from profiling, eh mag-contact tracing na lang for COVID-19 si Gen. Parlade. Mas may pakinabang s'ya dun," she said in a statement.
(Since we are short on resources for the pandemic response, Gen. Parlade should take part in contact tracing efforts instead of profiling. He will be more useful there.)
Parlade's statements against the charity movement have "turned off" legislators, said Senate Committee on Finance chair Sonny Angara, who leads budget deliberations in the chamber.
"With his statements, he is becoming a liability to the NTF-ELCAC since he is turning off the legislators who will approve their budget," he said.
"They might want to be more circumspect and cautious in their future statements as there are consequences," he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who sponsored NTF-ELCAC's budget in plenary since 2016, said he is now unsure if he is still willing to recommend the allocation of funds for the panel next year.
"I would say, enough of this kind of 'one-way-street' cooperation," he said.
Last year, the Senate Minority bloc urged the chamber to realign the NTF-ELCAC's budget to address more pressing needs like aid for typhoon and pandemic victims, but was outvoted by the majority.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she would "gladly advance that call again" in this year's budget deliberations.
"Hindi nila ipinakita na karapat dapat silang makatanggap ng ganiyan kalaking budget," she said.
(They did not show that they deserve that kind of budget.)
"[They are] totally bereft of reasonableness, totally bereft of right thinking," she said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the government should not wait for the 2022 budget debates to defund the panel.
"The President should realign the NTF-ELCAC under the 2021 GAA now," he said.
On Wednesday, Parlade denied that authorities have been profiling community pantries and their organizers, saying the panel was just checking on situations in these charity hubs that usually draw crowds.
"We’re just checking kung ano ang ginagawa, anong sitwasyon sa community pantries na ito kasi hindi naman lahat ng community pantries ay initiated by one group or one individual," Parlade told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(We're just checking what they're doing, what's the situation in these community pantries because not all of these are organized by one group or individual.)
"We've been checking all around the country, may community pantries na-find out na organized by the LGUs (local government units)."
(There are community pantries we found out were organized by LGUs.)
In an interview Thursday in another news agency, Parlade reminded senators that it was they who approved the budget of the NTF-ELCAC that includes a P16-billion barangay development program for the construction of bridges and farm-to-market roads, and livelihood, among others.
"Gusto ba nilang tanggalin 'yun? O, hindi nila naiintindihan kung ano yung batas na pinirmahan nila? So, I think that's unfair, yung mga sinasabi ng mga senador," he said.
(Do they want to remove those? Or, do they not understand the law that they passed? I think what the senators are saying now are unfair.)
"Sila ang stupid kung ito'y binabawi nila. Pinirmahan nila 'yang batas na 'yan para maging serbisyo, ipagpatuloy yung programa ng gobyerno para sa mahihirap. Ngayon, sasabihin nila, ide-defund nila yung NTF-ELCAC?... I'm a spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC but I don't receive any single peso from the NTF-ELCAC. I'm doing this as a second job," said the Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command chief.
(The senators are stupid for saying they want to remove the fund. They were the ones who signed the law to be able to extend service and continue the program of government for the poor. And now, they are saying they will defund the NTF-ELCAC?)
"Alam nila yun na hindi yun papunta sa NTF-ELCAC, at hindi yun ginagamit sa red-tagging, at hindi yun ginagamit sa intelligence, at hindi yun ginagamit sa profiliing, kung yan man ang gustong tawag n'yo dun," he added.
(They know that those funds don't go to the NTF-ELCAC, that those are not used for red-tagging, for intelligence gathering, and for profiling, if that's how you call it.)
Parlade said community pantries must be supported "but we should be watchful" because, according to him, some groups are exploiting the situation to elicit hatred against the government.
Asked to explain his "Satan" remark, he said he "did not mean" Ana Patricia Non, the organizer of the Maginhawa Community Pantry in Quezon City, is Satan.
"I never said that... In fact, I said I appreciate what Ana is doing. And nakita ng taumbayan na maganda yung ginagawa ni Ana. But what we are not telling the people is the organization, these other organizations who are even asking people to sign a blank document. Saan gagamitin yun, we don't know," he said.
(The people see that Ana si doing something good... We don't know how will those be used.)
In February, a lawyers' group also urged the AFP to remove Parlade for accusing opposition lawmakers, celebrities and other private individuals of being communist supporters without sufficient evidence.
Calls to defund the NTF-ELCAC have been opposed by Malacanang, with Presidential spokesman Harry Roque saying its budget is intended for projects that will give improvement and progress in areas that still have rebels.
But Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte supports the charity effort, despite some of its organizers being accused by the NTF-ELCAC of having links with communist groups.