NCCP welcomes the call of SR on Freedom of Expression to abolish the NTF ELCAC and her encouragement for the peace negotiations to proceed

Manila, Philippines – The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) welcomes the recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Irene Khan, to abolish the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. Khan’s recommendation underscores the failure of the task force, saying that it is outdated, and its creation does not take into account the ongoing peace negotiations.

On her visit to the Philippines, Khan engaged in several dialogues with various civil society organizations, including the church sector. Mr. Mervin Toquero, the Program Secretary of the Program Unit, Faith, Witness, and Service of the NCCP, highlighted those various rights violations, especially among human rights defenders (HRDs), including the right to freedom of expression, are in the context of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign against the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) as a “terror organization”. Toquero continued, “It can be noted that rights violations among HRDs increased significantly after the government terminated the peace negotiations with the NDFP in 2017.”

“With the Anti-Terrorism Law, red-tagging or terrorist-labeling by the NTF-ELCAC of critics across the political spectrum, even for those calling for the resumption of the peace negotiations, has become more threatening” Toquero added. The NCCP supports Khan’s call for the government to adopt a policy against terror-tagging. Throughout the years, the NCCP has upheld and promoted the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, as they address the roots of the armed conflict and human rights violations.

“The government should respect freedom of expression, and the NCCP believes that the peace process is a viable option that can ensure robust and sincere discourse. Thus, it is a critical arena where freedom of expression should not only be encouraged but also respected to build a strong peace constituency,” Toquero concluded. The NCCP also emphasizes the critical comment of Khan that the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC will allow more inclusive peace-making platforms that can include many actors such as the participation of women and other sectors.

During the dialogue, the Chairperson of the NCCP and General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Bishop Melzar Labuntog, shared several instances of rights violations perpetrated against church leaders and organizations merely carrying out their ministry for the communities they serve. Bishop Labuntog stated “The right to freedom of expression is essential for church people to practice their Christian religious beliefs through various ministries. These freedoms are fundamental to the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution and must be actively upheld.”

The NCCP, the largest aggrupation of Protestant and Non-Roman Catholic Churches in the country, remains committed to the respect and promotion of human rights including the protection of freedom of expression. ##