MANILA — A handful of individuals who work for the government’s controversial anti-insurgency task force are seeking elective posts in Halalan 2022, with some groups raising concerns that state funds will be used to bankroll their campaigns.
During the 8-day period of filing of certificates of candidacy (COC), personalities with links to National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) formalized their bids to participate in the forthcoming elections in May 2022.
Celine Pialago, one of the spokespersons of NTF-ELCAC, is first nominee of Malasakit Movement partylist, which claims to represent barangay frontliners.
Meanwhile, a certain Jeffrey "Ka Eric" Celiz is first nominee of Abante Sambayanan partylist. The partylist wants to represent former communist fighters.
During his speech, Celiz claimed to be a former member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). He now works with the NTF-ELCAC.
The CPP leadership has denied knowing Celiz.
Former beauty contestant and volleyball player Michele Gumabao, who now works as NTF-ELCAC ambassador, is second nominee of Mothers for Change (MOCHA) partylist, led by former sexy star and ardent Duterte supporter Mocha Uson.
The NTF-ELCAC is a creation of the Duterte government in a bid to quash the 5-decades-long communist insurgency.
However, the task force has been lambasted for red-tagging lawmakers, groups, and even celebrities critical of government.
The NTF-ELCAC has a proposed P28.1 billion budget for 2022, up from the P19 billion it got this year.
TO BE FUNDED BY NTF-ELCAC?
According to election lawyer Emil Marañon, the influx of NTF-ELCAC-linked aspirants for 2022 polls gives reasonable basis for suspicions that they would be funded by the anti-insurgency task force.
"With the NTF-ELCAC-connected personalities suddenly appearing as partylist nominees left and right, there could be basis to the report that the partylist system has now been infiltrated by groups that are not only backed but even supported and/or funded by NTF-ELCAC," Marañon said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, CPP spokesperson Marco Valbuena said with the 3 partylists' connection to NTF-ELCAC, voters should expect red tagging as the main "theme" of their campaigns.
"The people involved in these groups have all been projected by NTF-ELCAC over the past year... Using funds from the NTF-ELCAC to bankroll their election candidacy, expect that these groups will mount a noisy campaign of red tagging and terrorist-labeling and whipping-up anti-communist hysteria," Valbuena told ABS-CBN News.
'NO FINANCIAL INCENTIVE FROM NTF-ELCAC'
ABS-CBN News reached out to Celiz, Gumabao, and Pialago, but only the latter has responded as of posting.
Pialago refuted the allegation and said Malasakit Movement partylist is supported by her friends and private individuals and companies who believe in their cause.
"Ninety-nine percent po ng ikot ng Malasakit Movement ay galing po sa tulong ng aking mga kaibigan, pribadong sektor, mga kumpanya na naniniwala po sa'min," Pialago told ABS-CBN News.
"Wala pong pinasyal na benipisyo ang pagpasok ko po bilang isa sa mga naging tagapagsalita ng NTF-ELCAC," the former MMDA spokesperson added.
ABS-CBN News will update this story once Gumabao and Celiz give their comments.
The Comelec will still trim down the list of aspirants for Halalan 2022.
The candidates that would ultimately appear on the ballots will be finalized by December, according to Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.