A presidential communications official on Friday cited "testimonies of supposed former rebels" to explain why she accused several lawmakers of being high-ranking party members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army.
After being deferred in September, the deliberations of the House of Representatives on the proposed 2021 budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office ended past midnight Friday.
But not after lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc again called out PCOO Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy for accusing them of being high-ranking members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
It was a resumption of the issue that earlier spurred the deferral of debates on the PCOO's P1.587-billion budget.
Badoy, who refused to heed calls for her to apologize for so-called 'red-tagging', could only relay responses through budget sponsor Rep. Joet Garcia.
Yet on the live-streamed feed of the hearing, she could be seen looking directly at the Makabayan bloc members at what she dubbed before the hearing as "my very public stoning".
ACT Teachers partylist Rep. France Castro at one point raised her voice on her repeated query if Badoy had first-hand knowledge behind her claims.
"I want a categorical answer, Mr. Speaker, ginoong sponsor, mula dito kay Usec. Badoy. Mayroon ka bang personal knowledge doon sa sinasabi mo doon sa Facebook account mo? Yes or no?" Castro said.
"Yes. Ito po ay mga sworn statements," Garcia replied, referring to testimonies by supposed former rebels.
"Ito ay nanggaling sa nag-surrender na kadre. Doon po nakuha ang iba-ibang impormasyon ukol dito...Ang lahat po ng mga statements o mga deklarasyon na galing sa [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflicts] ay base po sa mga ebidensya na nanggaling sa iba-ibang ahensya ng ating pamahalaan, ng gobyerno, at pati ho sa mga testimony, sa mga witness na kanila pong nakakausap."
But for Castro, it was not first-hand enough.
"Itong usec na ito, isang bahagi lang 'yan at hindi malaking bahagi ng PCOO....Ito ay isang atake din sa ating institusyon," she said.
"Walang remorse, nakakalungkot na hindi talaga makakakitaan ng pagpapakumbaba o pagkamababang-loob ang isang usec na ito na parte ng gobyerno ni Presidente Duterte."
The interpellation also went personal, with Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite recalling his shared background with Badoy from the University of the Philippines.
He said they parted ways after the Supreme Court allowed former dictator Ferdinand Marcos' burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani after Duterte took office in 2016.
"I told her, 'Pagiging mali ang pagiging die-hard if you do not call out the president for his wrongdoings.' And I was not surprised when she answered 'What wrongdoings?'" Gaite said.
"At alam ko nang we'd be parting ways kasi ang isip niya ay nabulag na sa personalidad, hindi sa pinaninindigan ng isang pinuno o lider.
"Hindi ko na kilala 'yung dating kilala ko. Hindi na 'yong dating kasamahan namin sa UP na kasama sa nagra-rally para labanan ang diktadura, para labanan ang kasinungalingan, katiwalian at korapsyon."
He added her actions could be seen as violations to the code of conduct for public officials.
SUPPORTED BY PCOO?
Badoy's name was immediately brought up at the start of the deliberation, which began past midnight and was the last on schedule for the day.
Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, who was first to interpellate, asked how much the PCOO spent mounting an overseas tour that sent Badoy, other PCOO employees to the United States and Europe.
The cost was P5.325 million in 2019, Garcia said.
Cullamat, a Lumad leader, lamented the supposed use of this tour, which included representatives of Lumad communities, to spread misinformation against their groups.
"Sa mga tour na ito sa ibang nagpapakalat po ng paninira at terror-tagging si Usec. Badoy laban sa mga lehitimong progresibong organisasyon gamit ang pondo ng taumbayan sa ilalim ng PCOO," Cullamat said.
"Ito ang masakit para sa amin na ang mga nasa taas na liderato ng pamahalaan ang magpapakalat ng magiging problema."
This overseas caravan was also criticized for presenting the Philippine government's side on controversial issues such as the war on drugs and local press freedom.
Gaite then asked if Badoy's statements as a spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflicts (NTF-ELCAC) could be construed as reflecting the PCOO's position.
Garcia, answering for Badoy, said no, adding that the claims were supported by evidence.
"Malinaw na magkaiba ang role ni Usec. Badoy sa PCOO at sa NTF-ELCAC. Inilagay siya sa NTF-ELCAC dahil sa kanyang kakayahan, expertise pagdating sa strategic comms, pero ito ay iba sa trabaho niya bilang usec ng PCOO," he said.
PCOO head Sec. Martin Andanar previously said Badoy posted her claims on her account and did not use the PCOO's official pages.
Garcia proposed to Gaite that Makabayan lawmakers could meet with Badoy and other NTF-ELCAC members in an executive session on another day to go over the evidence they said they had.
"Maaari tayo magrequest na magkaroon tayo siguro ng isang executive session sa ibang araw upang mapakita nila ang iba't ibang ebidensya na nakuha naila at mapag-usapan natin," Garcia said.
Gaite replied this went against due process.
"Pero sa proseso na sinabi niyo parang pinaratangan niyo na at sinabing guilty, then we now have to prove ourselves. 'Di ba baliktad ito sa sinasabi niyong proseso o due process?"
The lawmaker also echoed his minority colleagues in saying the accusatiosn were ultimately dangerous, especially amid the Anti-Terror Law.
"Sa isang sitwasyon na ngayon ay pinatutupad ang anti-terror law na hindi po katawa-tawa o biro na ikaw ay ituring na terorista, ay napakadali at napakaluwag na ang isang opisyal ng gobyerno tulad ni Usec. Badoy na magsagawa ng ganitong paratang.
"Nilalagay sa panganib ang buhay ng mga ordinaryong mamamayan, ang iba tulad namin sa kongreso na may ilang opisyal sa gobyerno na nilalabag ang batas."
Quezon City 6th district Rep. Kit Belmonte, also for the minority, expressed openness to the private meeting, but on the condition the government party would apologize if proven wrong.
"Kung makita namin walang basis, guni-guni or even if may basis but not enough para ilabas niyo yung ganitong accusations na nakasisira talaga, we would also expect... 'yong mga communication na ganun, take down niyo, and a public apology would be warranted," Belmonte said.
FAKE POSTS 'NOT FROM PCOO'
Meanwhile, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago called on the PCOO to probe which agencies were behind the Facebook pages taken down for "coordinated inauthentic behavior", after some of them were found connected to the police and the military.
A number of these accounts also linked Makabayan members with the communist party.
Elago had previously grilled other agencies such as the Defense department and National Intelligence Coordinating Council over their role in the accounts, some of which put up posts against her.
The PCOO maintained that it was not behind any of the accounts.
"Nagco-coordinate nang mabuti ang PCOO sa Facebook para makita talaga kung saan galing ang misinformation and fake accounts, but as far as PCOO is concerned hindi ho nanggagaling sa kanila," Garcia said.
Garcia added the PCOO vetted its content.
"Mayroong thorough vetting process ang PCOO para ma-assure na walang misinformation na nanggagaling sa kanilang opisina."
Elago repeated her resolution for Congress to investigate the proliferation of the accounts.
"Kailangang panagutin ang nasa likod ng disinformation at kung tunay nga na ito'y state-sponsored, gumagamit tayo ng government resources," she ended.
"Kailangan managot sa ilalim ng batas. Dahil ang ginagawa ng mga terrorist-tagging na ito ay naglalagay sa pahamak sa buhay at kalayaan ng bawat isang nagiging target nito."