By Priam Nepomuceno

FRUITFUL TALKS. United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan (center) meets with officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in Camp Crame, Quezon City on Wednesday (Jan. 24, 2024). Officials from the Anti-Terrorism Council-Project Management Center and the Department of the Interior and Local Government also joined the meeting. (Photo courtesy of NTF-ELCAC)

MANILA – The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on Thursday said it welcomes dialogues and other exchanges between international and local civil society groups, stressing that this helps in fostering change.

“At NTF-ELCAC, we wholeheartedly embrace dynamic conversations and fruitful exchanges among international organizations, civil society groups, and the government. We believe that fostering an environment of open dialogue is crucial for the flourishing of our democracy here in the Philippines,” NTF-ELCAC National Secretariat executive director, Undersecretary Ernesto Torres Jr. said in an online press briefing.

He added that the “transformative power of vibrant discussions” cannot be overstated as it serves as a catalyst for positive change and ignites government reforms.

Torres also said the visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan to the country is a testament to the government’s commitment to transparency open dialogue, and the protection of civic space.

“The welcome dinner and the subsequent meeting at Camp Crame (Quezon City) exemplify our government’s dedication to openness and collaboration. These events have not only provided a platform for showcasing the sincerity of the PBBM administration but have also allowed us to comprehensively explain the laws, policies, and mechanisms in place within our organizations,” the NTF-ELCAC chief emphasized.

Torres also said Khan’s visit offers an exceptional opportunity for the international community to gain a nuanced understanding of the policies that govern the Philippines.

He said the task force, together with the Anti-Terrorism Council-Project Management Center (ATC-PMC), in a meeting on Wednesday, had the privilege of presenting their accomplishments, acknowledging challenges, and outlining future strategies.

He noted that this also highlights the country’s commitment to fostering a climate of openness and transparency.

“In our interactions, UNSR Ms. Khan highlighted the need for a delicate balance in addressing challenges while considering broader implications for societal and individual interests. The Spectrum Between Truth and Falsehood, as eloquently described by Ms. Khan, encapsulates the complexities of subjective interpretations and viewpoints within the realm of opinions. It is encouraging to note that, as Asians, we share common ground, valuing communal well-being over individual pursuits,” the NTF-ELCAC chief noted.

Torres also emphasized that the Philippine government supports initiatives that foster a culture of healthy skepticism, encouraging cognitive biases, fact-checking information, and supporting organizations that promote media literacy.

Torres also expressed confidence that Khan’s visit will help enhance efforts by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in solidifying the gains from the protection and defense of freedom of expression and opinion.

The NTF-ELCAC official also said he is anticipating that Khan will face considerable challenges as she engages with diverse perspectives and narratives from different government agencies, civil society groups, non-government organizations, especially entities, and other groups aligned with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

“Evaluating the conflicting stories presented by both sides will pose a considerable challenge for her. Nonetheless, the government expresses confidence that the veracity of our narratives will prevail,” he said.

On Tuesday, Khan also met with top security officials, including National Security Council Assistant Deputy Director Jonathan Malaya, where she was briefed by the ATC about the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and the mandate of the NTF-ELCAC.

“She was just absorbing all the presentations. Toward the end of the meeting, there are some points that she would like to make a follow-up on. For instance, on the NTF-ELCAC concern, she would like to get further information about the red-tagging issue because alam nating lahat na even sa (we all know that even) abroad, the NTF-ELCAC is being equated unfairly to red-tagging,” Torres said.

He explained that the red-tagging issue is not a policy of the Philippine government but rather an invention of the CPP-NPA-NDF that it used as a tool to vilify authorities and state forces. (PNA)