Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., the controversial spokesman of the Philippine government’s high-profile anti-communist task force, is in hot water after accusing community pantries offering free food of doing the devil’s work.
Hundreds of community pantries have sprouted up across the Philippines, providing a respite from a record COVID-19 surge during which hospitals are nearing capacity, vaccines are scarce, the economy is at a standstill, government aid has been delayed, and people are going hungry.
While many Filipinos have received the pantries with gratitude, Parlade on Tuesday accused Ana Patricia Non, the organizer of the Maginhawa community pantry in Quezon City, of deceiving people in the manner of Satan.
“That’s one person, Ana, Patricia, right? Same with Satan. Satan gave Eve an apple. That’s where it all started,” Parlade said in an interview with One News.
He then explained he was referring not only to Non, but to a “big organization that may be at the back” of the food pantries – a not-so-veiled reference to underground communists.
Non had already been forced to shut her pantry for several days due to safety concerns after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which Parlade heads, and the Quezon City police department shared posts baselessly linking the pantries to communist rebels. Pantry organizers and volunteers have also reported being harassed by police and asked to fill out forms.
The news sparked a public backlash which led President Rodrigo Duterte’s office to warn NTF-ELCAC against labeling the pantries as communist fronts, a practice known locally as “red-tagging.” Politicians and military officials have also expressed support for the food pantries, and the Maginhawa pantry has received a surge in donations.
Parlade has become notorious for baselessly accusing public figures, especially women, of being communist sympathizers. In October, he directed a spree of “warnings” at the actresses Liza Sobreano and Angel Locsin, along with Miss Universe pageant winner Catriona Gray, for their alleged associations with progressive and women’s rights groups which he baselessly deemed to have ties with communist rebels.
Parlade’s statements often come across as veiled threats, and rights groups frequently warn that “red-tagging” can be fatal in the Philippines. When a government official accuses a private citizen of having ties to communists, it can be interpreted as a license to kill extrajudicially without consequence.
In February, Parlade threatened to sue Tetch Torres-Tupas, a reporter for the Philippine Inquirer, over her article on two Indigenous Aetas who sought to lodge their opposition to the government’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Act.
Parlade has previously cited the far-right anti-Semitic “cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory to claim that communism and satanism are intrinsically linked.
In a 2019 article in the state-run Philippine News Agency, Parlade stated that major communist figures, such as Marx and Lenin, had belonged to a satanic cult, using passages that appear to be largely copy-pasted from a post on an online text-sharing forum titled “The Satanic Theology of Cultural Marxism.”
Parlade also called religious figures who had joined the Communist Party of the Philippines “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who “worship Satan, consistent with their communist dogma.”
The general frequently alleges without evidence that political opponents of Duterte, such as the progressive Makabayan bloc, are communists, raising concerns that the NTF-ELCAC’s 2021 budget of nearly $400 million will be used to attack opposition politicians and put political critics in danger.
Parlade has said he has received several temporary suspensions from Facebook and Twitter since February, but the general’s social media accounts remain active as of Thursday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday it is not his job to reprimand Parlade for his comments, despite presidential spokesperson Harry Roque saying earlier in the day that Parlade, an active-duty general, reports to Lorenzana.
Relief workers have been arrested or harassed by police and military officials on several occasions during the pandemic, creating a sentiment that the government sees aid workers as symbols of its own failures in responding to the economic fallout from COVID-19.