Ombudsman reprimands former NTF-ELCAC officials Parlade, Badoy after ‘red-tagging’ complaint

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) — The Office of the Ombudsman has reprimanded two former spokespersons of the state's anti-communist task force, who have repeatedly been accused of “red-tagging," for having "[tarnished] the image and integrity of their office” by issuing statements that malign progressive organizations.

In a decision signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Aug. 9 but released to the media only on Thursday, the office said it found retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. and Lorraine Badoy, past spokespersons of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), "guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.”

It was acting on a nearly three-year old complaint filed by the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) against Parlade, Badoy, and former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

In its December 2020 complaint, the group said the three should be held administratively liable for accusing members of some progressive groups – including the NUPL – of being mere fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. It said such allegations “pose a serious threat to their life, liberty and security.”

The Ombudsman agreed that there is “substantial evidence” to reprimand Parlade and Badoy, as it warned that a repetition of a similar offense would be dealt with more severely.

It particularly noted that the two issued statements criticizing the NUPL’s forum on dissent and its information drive to educate the public about their rights amid growing concerns of rights violations during lockdown.

“These matters are not communist propaganda as dissent and upholding of individual rights are vital in a vibrant democracy,” the decision read.

"The aforementioned statements unduly tarnishes the image of the NTF-ELCAC as it perpetuates the notion that it is being used as a governmental tool to silence dissent or opposition instead of legitimately pursuing its ultimate goal of lasting peace and ending the armed conflict with the communist rebels,” it added.

The office, meanwhile, said there is not enough evidence to hold Esperon liable, as "the only attributable statements to Esperson is of him publicly defending Parlade and Badoy of their respective public utterances."

It also didn't find grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, or oppression on the part of the respondents, as argued by the NUPL.

It said that even assuming that the statements made by the three can be categorized as a form of red-tagging or red-baiting, “they do not constitute misconduct as there is no intentional wrongdoing or deliberate violation of law or standard behavior.”

This is because there is currently no law or legal basis defining and penalizing red-tagging or red-baiting, the Ombudsman explained.

The utterances also cannot be categorized as acts of cruelty, severity, or excessive use of authority, the office said, "since it appears that the statements were directed towards groups which they perceived to be part of the mechanism or group that promulgate communist agenda."

Victory ‘fell short’

In a statement, NUPL chairperson Edre Olalia said his group views the ruling with mixed reactions, as they did not achieve full legal redress.

“It seems like a pyrrhic victory as it fell short of our plea for complete legal accountability,” he wrote.

Still, Olalia said the partial finding of guilt and the categorical reprimand to Parlade and Badoy may be deemed as a loud warning to officials.

“The Decision implies that any reckless innuendo & gratuitous vitriol against human rights lawyers (and by extension, against activists and human rights defenders for that matter) to silence dissent, opposition or rights awareness, will not be countenanced and will be sanctioned one way or the other, sooner or later, in time,” he said.