MANILA— While asserting its respect for women and their rights, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Saturday stood in apparent defense of a general whose remarks linking celebrities to the communist movement have drawn heavy fire over red-tagging, citing concerns they might be “used” by those linked to the underground.
Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, the military spokesperson, also named students killed in rebel encounters with the military, saying communist recruitment in schools is "not propaganda."
"The AFP has the highest respects for women and women’s rights that are also being espoused by Ms. Soberano and Ms. Gray. We even accorded military honors to the former Miss Universe in August 2019 for bringing prestige to Filipino Women and for her advocacies," said Arevalo.
He was referring to actress Liza Soberano and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, the subject of recent controversial comments of Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., an official of the government's National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Parlade's remarks supposedly linked them to the underground movement over their recent comments supporting women's rights.
This has drawn criticism from lawmakers, rights groups, and even Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana himself, who said accusations of communist links should not be made without evidence.
But Arevalo, who also heads the AFP Education, Training and Doctrine Command, said communist recruitment among the youth and the popular is no fabrication, saying this was the root of the Hands Off Our Children initiative, a group of parents whose children have joined the New People's Army (NPA), the communist party's armed wing.
The group recently made the news as among organizations whose Facebook pages were shut down for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
"Recruitment by the CTG (communist-terrorist group) from among the students, youth leaders, and influencers is not a propaganda — it is real. Student leaders Lapira, Manalo, et al who figured and died during armed encounters with soldiers were testaments to this deadly trail. The fact that Hands Off Our Children came about is a truth to tell," he said, referring to slain student activists linked to the rebel group.
For Arevalo, protecting people from recruitment by what the military calls a communist-terrorist group is part of the AFP's sworn duty. The military has been waging a protracted war against the long-running communist insurgency in the country, with attempts to broker peace so far futile.
"We in the AFP has the solemn obligation to fight and defeat communist terrorists which means death from either side. But before we reached that point, we trail our focus on prevention. Hence the effort to inform Ms. Soberano and educate the netizens," he said.
"We are not saying that Ms Soberano is a member of NPA, but we are worried that she and her genuine advocacies may just be used by some sectors with reported links to the underground movements in recruiting for the CTG owing to her popularity," he added.
Arevalo said the AFP cannot give up on its duty "knowing the stories of many young and idealist student leaders who were dragged into the ranks of the CTG and meeting their untimely death for a worthless cause."