We are very glad that UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Ms. Irene Khan, at the end of her mission to the country today, recommended the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
The Ferdinand Marcos Jr government should immediately heed Ms. Khan and abolish the NTF-ELCAC. UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of Human Rights in the context of Climate Change Mr. Ian Fry also made the recommendation in November 2023.
While it is more than welcome, Ms. Khan’s recommendation should not come as a surprise to anyone. She was simply being independent and objective in using a human rights-based approach in the process of examining the situation in the country. Her recommendation stem from the principle that not even the government’s security considerations justify violations of the freedom of opinion and expression and other labor and human rights.
At the same time, we express our gratitude to Ms. Khan for gathering information and analyses from labor and human rights organizations and human rights victims in the country — even as she also got the side of the Marcos Jr government, including the NTF-ELCAC itself.
We make special mention of Ms. Khan’s visit to journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, Karapatan human rights worker Alexander Philip Abinguna, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines staff Marielle Domequil, and other political prisoners. Her visit helps shine a light on the continuing injustice against the country’s political prisoners and human rights defenders.
The Marcos Jr government should heed Ms Khan’s other recommendations: Stop red-tagging. Send a clear message that the government is opposed to red-tagging. Create inclusive peace-making platforms. Create a law protecting human rights defenders. Pursue peace talks. Implement reforms and boost accountability mechanisms to address human rights violations.
Now is the time for the Marcos Jr regime to prove its claim of upholding human rights and democracy in the country and of cooperating with the UN and the international community. Talk is cheap. The Marcos Jr regime should immediately implement Ms. Khan’s recommendations — as well as those of Mr. Fry and the International Labour Organization High-Level Tripartite Mission of January 2023.  
We condemn government agencies and certain politicians for issuing statements that push back against Ms. Khan’s recommendations. We condemn the NTF-ELCAC in Western Visayas for saying that Ms. Khan’s earlier statement about political prisoners are merely “speculations” and insult the country’s courts. These statements are heavy with accusations but weak with evidence and argumentation. They belie the Marcos Jr regime’s claims about being open to international scrutiny and championing human rights and democracy.
We condemn the Marcos Jr government’s plan of simply renaming the NTF-ELCAC into a “National Task Force on Unity, Peace, and Development,” as announced by National Security Council Assistant Director General and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya.
The number of people who have been killed, imprisoned, disappeared and harassed in conjunction with the NTF-ELCAC’s activities has piled up, yet the government is concerned to save face over the agency’s creation and operation. The government should admit that the NTF-ELCAC is guilty of rights violations. This is a small step towards justice for the agency’s many victims.
We condemn Sen. Francis Chiz Escudero for saying that the NTF-ELCAC “seeks to provide solutions to deep seated problems.” The NTF-ELCAC does not do this, but instead fuels the problems it supposedly seeks to solve, and even adds to these problems. The fact that barangays in his province received funds from the NTF-ELCAC does not mean that the agency is founded on sound principles and has served the country well.
We laud Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III for reiterating the NTF-ELCAC’s difficulty in liquidating its expenses before the country’s Commission on Audit. The NTF-ELCAC has flouted the country’s laws for so long, it should be abolished now and its main officials held accountable.