Philippines counter insurgency force ‘operating with impunity’, UN expert says

November 16, 2023 - 10:33 AM
Ian Fry, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, holds a press conference following a 10-day visit to the country, at Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, Philippines, November 15, 2023. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

A United Nations expert on climate change and human rights urged the Philippines on Wednesday to “disband” its anti-communist task force, which he said was “operating with impunity” and sought an independent investigation into its operations.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Ian Fry was referring to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC, which then Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte created in 2018 to end half a century of communist insurgency that has stunted development in some parts of the country.

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the task force of “red-tagging,” the practice of accusing rivals or critics of supporting or joining rebels, as a pretext to silence, arrest or even kill them. The government denies that.

The task force, under the order creating it, is chaired by the Philippine president, and is composed of cabinet officials, including the military and police chiefs.

“It is clear that ELCAC is operating beyond its original mandate, and is red tagging people from the community and indigenous peoples and it appears as though private financial interests are driving ELCAC to do this,” Fry told reporters at the end of his 10-day visit to the Philippines.

“It’s moved beyond its mandate and its usefulness and needs to be disbanded outright, and the government needs to develop another approach to deal with terrorism issues, but it’s clear that this unit is operating with impunity,” Fry said.

The task force said in response it “takes strong exception to the call” made by Fry and assured the U.N. official that it “is a working and effective human rights mechanism.”

— Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan