Vice President Leni Robredo's recent statement on the National Task Force on the Elimination of Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is disappointing and troubling.
To defund and abolish NTF-ELCAC has been a clear and consistent demand among indigenous peoples’ groups and formations. The demand is simply not because of “careless statements of its members” as VP Leni has said in her meeting with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The NTF-ELCAC was created by the Duterte government to intensify its attacks against those it deems as enemies, opposition, and critical against the government in the guise of an anti-insurgency program.
Over the years, indigenous women and men, who have been actively involved in the assertion of their rights to land, in campaigns against the encroachment in their domains such as mining and dams, have been accused of being part of the New People’s Army (NPA). The NTF-ELCAC said that indigenous peoples compose the majority of the NPA. This was echoed by President Duterte in his last State of the Nation Address. These accusations and pronouncements have justified extrajudicial killings of IPs.
In the time of COVID19 lockdown, when financial and food support are badly needed by the communities, indigenous women were being asked to surrender to avail of the “development package”. “Surrender as what?”, one of our partners asked. The response she got was, “As NPA.” She didn’t because she was not a member of NPA. Thus, she did not get the development package, and neither did her community. In another community, 5,000 to 10,000 pesos were being given to those who would “surrender”, and apparently, these were smaller amounts than the actual allocation given to barangays.
In times of hunger, surrender has been a way to earn a one-time big time. This is how the barangay development fund of NTF-ELCAC is being used, VP Leni. Moreover, the barangay development is a state obligation. The funds need not go through an anti-insurgency program. Development should not be in the hands of the military.
The current Executive Director of NTF-ELCAC concurrently sits as the chair of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). This has converted the NCIP as an extension of the NTF-ELCAC, neglecting the Commission’s mandate of ancestral domain delineation, ensuring that basic social services are given to IP communities, and the basic protection and promotion of IP rights. The preoccupation of NCIP now is the red-tagging of Indigenous Peoples and militarization of their communities.
Therefore, we want the NTF-ELCAC abolished. This is our demand for the next government. We know and believe in VP Leni’s strong position on human rights, and support to the struggle of indigenous women and men. We expect VP Leni to shed light on this critical issue.