A United Nations expert has called for abolishing an anti-communism task force in the Philippines, following a nearly two-week visit in the country to assess the state of free speech and media rights.
Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion also urged Manila to do more to curb the killing of journalists, describing the practice as the "most egregious form of censorship."
Calls to abolish anti-communism task force
Khan recommended disbanding the multi-agency National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Set up in 2018, the task force was created by former President Rodrigo Duterte and assigned a hefty budget. It's supposed to combat a longstanding communist rebel group that's waged an insurgency against the government in Manila for decades.
However, Khan argued on Friday that a possible restart of peace talks made the force's existence "outdated."
Khan also decried the so-called "red-tagging" of individuals by the task force, as well as the military and other state apparatuses. Red-tagging refers to accusing government critics of being communist sympathizers as a pretext to silence, arrest or kill them.
"There is clear evidence that red-tagging and terror-tagging are being practiced by security forces as part of their counter-terrorism strategy," Khan said. "The state has certainly the obligation to protect its people from terrorism, but must do so within the confines of the rule of law and in line with these international human rights obligations."
National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Malaya told a separate briefing that the task force will "transition to a different body," once the rebellion has been defeated.
Nevertheless, Malaya described the NTF-ELCAC as a "game changer" in counterinsurgency, describing calls for its abolition as "improper."
Since 1969, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army, have fought successive Philippine governments.
Philippines 'dangerous country for journalists'
Khan also described the Philippines as a "dangerous country for journalists," who are often targeted as part of the counterinsurgency measures.
"Much more needs to be done to attack impunity," she added.
Khan cited UNESCO data suggesting that there had been 81 cases of journalist killings which had not been prosecuted or investigated. Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. came to office in 2022, at least four journalists have been killed, she added.
rmt/rt (AFP, Reuters)