MANILA - The Philippines' anti-communism panel on Monday said it is retaining Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. as one of its spokespersons, even after senators underscored that his appointment is illegal under the Constitution.
Parlade, who has been repeatedly criticized for falsely accusing some celebrities and lawmakers of being communist sympathizers, will be in charge of communicating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict's (NTF-ELCAC) security sector operations, according to the panel's vice chairman.
"The designation of officials under the expanded pool of spokespersons allows for a focused discourse and engagement with the public on each spokesperson's respective thematic coverage," National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said in a media briefing.
The NTF-ELCAC has also created a media bureau "for the dissemination of information, as well as the establishment of linkages with our partners in the media," he said.
Several senators earlier called for the removal of Parlade from the anti-communism panel after the general likened community pantry initiator Ana Patricia Non to Satan.
At least 14 senators also signed a resolution denouncing Parlade after he called senators "stupid" for threatening to defund the NTF-ELCAC next year.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon reiterated that keeping Parlade - an active military official - as a spokesperson of a panel under the Office of the President is a violation of the Constitution.
"Article XVI, Section 5(4) of the Constitution provides that 'No member of the Armed Forces in the active service shall, at any time, be appointed or designated in any capacity to a civilian position in the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations or any of their subsidiaries,'" Drilon said in a statement.
"We will continue to question his appointment as well as the appropriateness of using P16.4 billion in people’s money for anti-insurgency funds instead of using it to expand the ayuda (cash aid), subsidize the salaries of private sector workers or buy COVID-19 vaccines," he said.
"Since the time the NTF-ELCAC was created, being the principal sponsor of their annual budget, I have been their most reliable ally in the Senate - until now," said Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has been sponsoring the task force's annual budget in the Senate plenary.
"That said, there's no point discussing, much less arguing with people who refuse to listen to reason and adhere to the rule of law," he told reporters in a text message.
"All I can say is, they made their choice, and it will cost them," he said.
Esperon said he is discussing with concerned agencies and the senators the appointment of Parlade as task force spokesperson, as he acknowledged the Constitutional provision cited by Drilon.
"The civilian positions have been defined by Executive Order 371, issued by President Corazon Aquino that says that the civilian positions are as defined by the Civil Service Commission, plantilla positions. The position of spokesperson is not a plantilla position," he said.
"Number 2, it is not a civil executive, CESO position. And therefore, it is allowed," he added.
Parlade is not receiving any pay and allowances for "this extra job", said Esperon.
Drilon said the Senate would review why the NTF-ELCAC had to have 8 spokespersons during a pandemic.
"Why would a mere task force need too many mouthpieces? This is unprecedented," he said.
"This is the first time I am hearing of a mere task force with 8 spokespersons. Is it a judicious use of funds? It only reinforces the fear that NTF-ELCAC is a propaganda machine," he said.
The other spokespersons of NTF-ELCAC are the following, with their respective areas of coverage:
1. PCOO Usec. Lorraine Marie Badoy - Social Media Affairs, Sectoral Concerns
2. DILG Usec. Jonathan Malaya - Local Government Affairs, Barangay Development Program, International Engagement
3. Usec. Severo Catura (of the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat) - International Affairs, Peace Process, Human Rights Concerns
4. Usec. Jose Joel Sy Egco of the Office of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security Secretariat - Mass Media Engagements, Fact-Checker
5. Asec. Celine Pialago of MMDA - NTF-ELCAC Public Affairs and Information, Youth Concerns
6. Atty. Marlon Bosantog (of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples) - Legal Affairs, Indigenous Peoples Concerns
7. Gayedelle Florendo - Assistant Spokesperson on NTF-ELCAC Public Affairs and on Indigenous Peoples Concerns
According to Esperon, just like the communist group which is "multi-faceted" and "multi-layered", the NTF-ELCAC also has to "cover everything" by tapping eight spokespersons.