MANILA - Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade - the Philippine senior military officer who is gaining infamy for his tirades on social media against those he accuses of being communists – wears two hats for the government that is now making it unclear who could sanction him for his online vitriol.
Parlade is both commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command (AFP SOLCOM) and spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said Parlade is indeed a soldier who must adhere to the tenets of good military conduct, but NTF-ELCAC is a higher office which the former cannot just impose on.
Parlade has been denounced for accusing human rights groups, journalists, and even celebrities for allegedly supporting the cause of communist rebels against government.
Sobejana said he has ordered the AFP Provost Marshal to check if Parlade’s actions and words are actually sanctioned by the NTF-ELCAC.
"Para sa ganon hindi kami nagmumukhang iniimbestigahan namin ang nakatataas sa amin, yet it is part [after all] of their strategic communication plan,” Sobejana said Wednesday.
(So we won't look like we're investigating those who are our superiors.)
Since assuming office, Sobejana has vowed consistently that the Armed Forces would now be circumspect and evidence-based before saying anything in public.
But Parlade – his “mistah” or classmate in the Philippine Military Academy class of 1987 – has made sweeping public accusations, contrary to the direction Sobejana wants to take.
Parlade’s most recent target of vitriol is the Inquirer reporter Tetch Torres-Tupas, whom he called a “propagandist,” “sloppy,” and a "supporter of terrorists" after she wrote a story about 2 Aetas submitting a petition to the Supreme Court, asking if they could be included in the petitioners against the Anti-Terror Law.
He was slammed for his accusations, but he denied making any such threats and claims his remarks are not official military policy.
If the Philippine Army’s 2014 Social Media Handbook is to be followed, Parlade’s words may be interpreted as violating a prohibition on “rants or gripes,” or to create “posts instigating fight or debate on perceived critical and political matters that affect the military organization.”
While Parlade is a soldier, Sobejana explained that he is not just that at the moment.
“Sana maintindihan ng ating mga kababayan na ang NTF-ELCAC ay mas mataas sa Armed Forces. Component lamang ang AFP ng NTF-ELCAC. Ngayon, Gen. Parlade is designated at spokesperson, we have to respect kung anuman yung napag-usapan dyan," he said.
(I hope our countrymen would understand NTF-ELCAC is higher than the Armed Forces. The AFP is only the component of NTF-ELCAC. Gen. Parlade is designated as its spokesperson, we have to respect what they are discussing there.
Parlade, in recent days, wore a third hat – that of a citizen. In the midst of public backlash against his statements, he now said that his words are merely his personal views, and represent neither the AFP nor the NTF-ELCAC.
“[He] now has said he is speaking as a citizen of this republic. We have to respect that right of a person,” said Sobejana.
“But of course, sa pananaw ng mga tao, sundalo ang nagsasalita. Hindi madisconnect ang personality mo as ordinary citizen with you being a soldier.”
(But in the eyes of the people, a soldier is speaking. You can't disconnect your personality as a ordinary citizen with you being a soldier.)
In the end, Sobejana said Parlade could still face sanctions if he continues to disobey his guidance.
“Ngayon, with my policy that we should be very deliberate, very careful, we should exercise due diligence - that’s a guidance, and in effect, it’s a policy. Wala mang nakasaad na karampatang parusa (Maybe there's no penalty) based on that policy, because it was a verbally said by me upon my assumption during our command conference," he said.
"But then, kapag patuloy pa ring lalabagin yung ganung klaseng guidance, then we have to impose some sanctions on him. Kung talagang ma-establish natin.”
(If he will continue violate that guidance, then we have to impose some sanctions on him, if we can really establish it.)
Sobejana also said he will review the AFP’s existing guidelines on social media behavior to see if these are still responsive to today’s times.
A lawyer's group earlier urged the AFP to fire Parlade for his alleged persistent red-tagging claims.
Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties co-convenor Pacifico Agabin said the ranking military official should be "more discerning and objective."
Parlade is set to retire in a few months, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.
Despite calls to remove him from the military, Lorenzana has repeatedly defended the general, saying the official is just "doing his job."