MANILA - A lawmaker on Tuesday dismissed the recent attack against him by President Rodrigo Duterte as a diversionary tactic meant to move important issues out of the public eye.
"That's a classic President Duterte. He has been doing that in his weekly address. It so happens that yesterday kami na naman 'yong kaniyang parang (we were his) flavor of the week," Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate told ANC.
"He's been doing that to all his critics and just anybody who criticizes the policies of the present administration," he added in the later part of the interview.
In his weekly public address Monday, Duterte went on a rant against progressive groups in Congress, calling them alleged legal fronts of the communist insurgency movement.
During the meeting that was supposed to discuss the government's action in solving the COVID-19 pandemic, the President railed against Zarate, at one point describing the lawmaker as dog poop.
Zarate dismissed the remark.
"Walang patutunguhan if you will just papatulan mo 'yong gano'ng mga patutsada dahil it will only divert the issue," he said.
(Responding to it will lead to nowhere because it will only divert the issue.)
"The issue here really in these past months for example 'yong competence of the government to respond to this global pandemic and hindi lang kami nagsasabi niyan, marami (we're not the only one saying that but many)."
As of Monday, the Philippines has logged over 431,000 coronavirus infections, of which nearly 8,400 have died from the disease.
To date, some 24,580 people are still sick with the virus while more than 398,000 have recovered.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, the Philippines has the second most number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, trailing Indonesia that has tallied over 538,000 infections.
A running tally from the US-based Johns Hopkins University also showed the Philippines is among the top 30 countries with most COVID-19 cases.
Its neighboring countries Thailand and Vietnam have weathered the pandemic better, having kept its tally at nearly 4,000 and 1,400, respectively.
For over 4 years in office, Duterte has yet to solve the rampant corruption in government and the problem of illegal drugs, Zarate said.
An official appointed by Duterte, former PhilHealth CEO Ricardo Morales, is facing charges over alleged corrupt practices in the state-run health insurer.
I'M NOT A COMMUNIST
During the interview, Zarate also denied anew allegations he was involved in the causes of the decades-long insurgency movement.
"Once again, I have been saying this, I'm not a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). I'm not a [member of the] New People's Army (NPA). I'm not even a member of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF)," he said.
He added, "But I admit, I'm an activist, even before as a student and as a lawyer. Hindi ko ikinahihiya na aktibista ako (I'm not ashamed of it). I'm a leftist member of the House of Representatives. We were pursuing our advocacies through parliamentary struggle."
Zarate alleged the Duterte administration was "obsessed" in linking progressive groups in the lower chamber into the underground movement for a more sinister plot.
"The administration is now obsessed in really connecting us to the underground movement to pave the way probably for the eventual designation of our parties the Bayan Muna and Makabayan bloc as terrorist organization under the anti-terror law," he said.
Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is facing legal challenges in petitions raised before the Supreme Court, the Anti-Terrorism Council may designate as a terrorist an individual, group of persons, organizations or associations upon its own finding of probable cause that such person/s commit, attempt to commit or conspire in the commission of the specified acts of terrorism.
Zarate also alleged this could be part of the administration's plot to prevent the opposition from participating in the 2022 elections. Bayan Muna is a legitimate party with 3 seats in the lower chamber.
"I think what they're doing now is really paving the way for the eventual probably to disqualify us from participating in the 2022 elections... and cripple eventually the political opposition," he said.