MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday said it was no longer surprised about the military’s claim that communists were recruiting in schools for its alleged "Red October" plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.
This even as it doubted that officials of 18 colleges and universities on the list were complicit in such recruitment activities, where the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has allegedly been showing videos of atrocities during the regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to "incite students to rebel against the government."
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who was once a professor at the University of the Philippines, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) report was no longer surprising.
“Quite frankly, if you ask me, it hardly surprises me, because of course the CPP-NPA (New People's Army) will try to recruit students,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
“But the reality is none of the schools I think will openly endorse such a recruitment. This recruitment is being undertaken in a secret manner. It’s not as if they will have a booth for students to enlist.”
Several schools and student leaders on Thursday denied the military's claims that communist rebels were recruiting in their schools for the supposed ouster plot.
Roque believes schools did not sanction such recruitment activity.
“They are recruiting, it’s not a cause of worry. It’s just a statement of fact. But we have no doubts that none of the schools are openly supportive of such initiatives,” he said.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), meanwhile, has expressed alarm over the military's accusation.
In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said red-tagging schools and students may embolden the military to suppress basic constitutional rights.
“This blanket act of red-tagging endangers students and the youth and it may give the AFP a license to arbitrarily infringe [on] the freedom of expression, the right to petition government, as well as to assembly,” de Guia said.
Roque, meanwhile, said this would not happen.
“Dalawang taon na ang presidente wala pang pinaarestong estudyante… Ang presidente napakataas ng tolerance sa freedom of expression,” he said.
(The President has been in office for two years and no student has been arrested yet... The President has a very high tolerance for freedom of expression.)