DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 April) – Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate called a military official a “congenital liar” for alleging that members of the left-leaning Makabayan Bloc did not show up when invited to a validation trip on Wednesday to know if the red-tagging accusations against a Salugpongan School in Talaingod, Davao del Norte were true.
The allegation came from Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations MGen Antonio Parlade Jr. during the AFP-PNP press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel here on Wednesday.
But in a phone interview, Zarate said they had not received an invitation to join the supposed investigation.
Parlade also claimed the progressive partylist groups wanted to delay the inquiry.
“Ginapagawas karon na gipugngan namo. Na-bilib ko sa bakakon ni Parlade bisan sa Semana Santa (They want to make it appear that we’re suppressing it. I am impressed with the dishonesty of Parlade even if it’s Holy Week),” Zarate said.
The Makabayan bloc, a coalition of 12 partylist groups, comprises Bayan Muna, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Kabataan, Katribu, Migrante, Akap-bata, Courage, Piston, Kalikasan and Aking Bikolnon.
Parlade said the “congressional inquiry,” obviously referring to the validation trip, was conducted to know the truth behind the Salugpongan schools amid accusations that communist rebels used them to radicalize and indoctrinate young Lumads.
Among the agencies that joined the activity were the Department of Education, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Department of Interior and Local Government, police, military, and Office of the Presidential Adviser for Indigenous Peoples’ Concerns, according to Parlade.
“Hindi nagpakita ang Makabayan Bloc (The Makabayan Bloc did not show up). We want to engage them into this inquiry para sabihin natin ang totoo (so we can tell the truth),” he said, adding the inquiry could have answered questions on issues on human rights abuses and militarization in the region.
A similar activity had been undertaken on Tuesday in Tugbok, Davao City, he said.
For his part, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said his office had not also received an invitation.
“The two previous official inquiries of the House committee on indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples last February clearly demolished their baseless accusations and in fact napakaulawan sila (they were put to shame). They insisted that Salugpongan is not registered with DepEd when a DepEd representative present during the hearing clearly affirmed the school’s permit to operate,” he said.
Had he known, Casilao said he would “be very willing to face them and debunk their lies.”
Zarate said he was not aware of the supposed inquiries in the region this week.
He, however, admitted to receiving an invitation from the House committee on indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples last March 25 for an “ocular inspection” in Lianga, Surigao scheduled on April 25 in relation to his House Resolution 1656 filed in February 2018, which called for an “investigation, in aid of legislation, on the human rights violations committed against the Indigenous Peoples in the same province.”
He said he declined it explaining he would not be available due to the campaign sorties, and suggested that it be held after the elections.
His letter to committee chair Rep. Allen Jesse C. Mangaoang dated April 10 read in part: “My staff have been trying to arrange my schedules to fit in the said ocular inspection. However, because of numerous activities and campaign sortie events, which have been prepared way earlier, it will be very difficult for me to adjust because of the very limited campaign days available.”
Parlade also accused the Makabayan bloc of delaying the inquiry but maintained it had to be pushed through because it had been postponed twice.
“Matagal na itong naka schedule pero gusto itong ipa-postpone ng Makabayan bloc, sabi namin hindi, dalawang beses na itong na postpone, we have to proceed with this inquiry on this Salugpongan schools for us to finally thresh out ano ba talaga ang katotohanan sa Salugpongan schools (This has been scheduled a long time ago but the Makabayan bloc wanted it postponed. This was already postponed twice. We have to proceed with this inquiry on this Salugpongan schools for us to finally thresh out what’s the truth behind the Salugpongan schools)” he said.
But Zarate belied such claims saying he was not a member of the committee, “so I have no power at all to prevent or stop it from conducting any hearing if its members want.”
“From the statements and lies now being peddled by Parlade, it is now becoming apparent that the purpose of this so-called investigation is nothing but a McCarthyism witch hunt to further vilify and slander the Makabayan bloc and other progressive groups,” he said.
“This is part of the vicious partisan campaign directed against us by anti-democratic forces, like the discredited putschist Parlade,” he said.
Parlade added the government wanted the closure of all schools linked to the communists but vowed the government would bring basic services closer to lumad communities.
Parlade further repeated earlier allegations that the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and livelihood Development Inc. and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. had links to the communist movement. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)