MANILA, Philippines — The controversy over the military’s Red-tagging of academic institutions, particularly the University of the Philippines (UP) and their graduates, “may merit at least a suspension” of the planned termination of the 1989 accord between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the state university, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Monday.
But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is not keen on this suggestion as he stood by his position on Sunday night to scrap the accord, which sought to restrain security forces from entering UP campuses without prior notice to school authorities.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday apologized for the erroneous list it posted on social media last week, which included names of several UP graduates as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and even a number of them as dead.
“[W]e are truly sorry for those who were inadvertently named,” said Maj. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, AFP deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations. “We are conducting an investigation on how that list was released.”
Another list posted on the AFP Information Exchange’s Facebook account identified a number of students as slain NPA members.
“That article has since been immediately taken down or deleted from our social media accounts,” the AFP Information Exchange said in a statement on Sunday.
It apologized to “those who were inadvertently affected by inconsistencies regarding the List of Students Who Joined the NPA (Died or Captured).”
“The Office of the J7, AFP, is already conducting an internal investigation as to how the list got published. Personnel who are responsible will be held to account,” it said. “We want to assure the public that we are now reviewing our processes and procedures to ensure that similar incident will not happen again in the future.”
In a television interview, Lacson praised Lorenzana and the military establishment “for openly accepting the mistake they made.”
“It takes a lot of humility particularly for Secretary Lorenzana to publicly apologize for the AFP’s blunder,” said the senator, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy and a former chief of the Philippine National Police.
“I think it is prudent now for Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to at least suspend the termination of the UP-DND accord and hold a dialogue as he already mentioned he would do,” Lacson said.
“They based their decision to terminate the UP-DND accord, signed way back, on what appears now to be false information,” he said.
In a series of messages to the Inquirer, Lacson reiterated that “a dialogue [should be] held with UP president [Danilo] Concepcion to possibly find a middle ground to the satisfaction of the parties concerned.”
But Lorenzana, in a short video message on Sunday night, said “abrogating the DND agreement with UP is a fulfillment of a patriotic duty even though it’s an unpopular move.”
“Some of you may see this as a rash decision, but the numerous testimonies and grueling experiences presented to me by former NPA rebels prompted me to issue this,” he said.
“I personally bore witness to the atrocities committed by the communist terrorist[s] against our people. They prey on our children’s idealism and vulnerability, even costing them their own lives. I have been fighting for this country all my life as a soldier. Our problem with the CPP-NPA has been with us for 52 years,” he said.
“Help me fix this, let us talk and find ways to end this insurgency once and for all. Let us work together and move forward,” Lorenzana said. “My intentions are pure, my goals are simple—to minimize the threat to the youth.”
Suspicions about the military’s intentions toward the UP community have remained.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate of the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives said “a public apology is good, but this [R]ed-tagging practice of the Duterte administration has to stop. Cases should be filed for those responsible for these continued spreading of wrong information and fake news.”
In his statement, UP Diliman chancellor Fidel Nemenzo said the military could be keeping a longer, unvetted list targeting members of the community as communists.
Associate dean Jay Batongbacal of the UP College of Law affirmed this concern.
“It’s obvious that what they’re eyeing are covert operations: to send infiltration agents just like they used to do in martial law, or to send units to disrupt activities that for them are unlawful or possibly related to the Communist Party of the Philippines,” Batongbacal said.
The country’s mandatory lawyers’ organization, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), came to the defense of three lawyers Red-tagged by the military on its list—Alexander Padilla, Rafael Angelo Aquino and former IBP president Roan Libarios.
“IBP calls out misleading claims not only for the sake of its members, but for all victims of similar [R]ed-tagging. If lawyers and people of stature are put in jeopardy because of [R]ed-tagging, we cannot disregard the terror and prejudice that it brings to ordinary citizens,” the group’s current president, Domingo Cayosa, said in a statement.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros mocked the AFP for “witch-hunting.”
“If they really want to find communists, they should go to the West Philippine Sea. They can use their intelligence funds to monitor and push back against unfriendly spying,” she said. —WITH REPORTS FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, MARLON RAMOS, JULIE M. AURELIO, MAILA AGER AND LEILA B. SALAVERRIA INQ