By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. said last week that Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Tetch Torres-Tupas could be held liable under the Anti-Terrorism Law for “aiding the terrorists by spreading lies” for reporting the alleged illegal arrest and torture of two Aetas suspected by the military of being communist insurgents.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NJUP) said the general’s comments prove that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is fraught with threats against civil liberties.

As such, the law could be used to intimidate legitimate media practitioners and was therefore being used as a weapon against ordinary citizens.

According to the NUJP, the Inquirer reporter “was simply writing about the fact that the petition was filed and recounting the allegations made in that petition.”

The organization of working newsmen and women added: “The government has repeatedly issued reassurances that the law will not be used to stifle dissent or to clamp down on the press. But actions and statements by people like Parlade, who will be tasked with implementing the Anti-Terrorism Law, speak louder than those press statements.”

Sen. Francisco Pangilinan said Parlade should resign or be terminated from his post.

The opposition senator recalled Maj. Gen. Alex Luna, who was recently relieved of his command after accusing former University of the Philippines students as communist underground members. The list was rejected by the Department of National Defense as unconfirmed and possibly erroneous. Pangilinan stated that the Southern Luzon Command chief should be given the same treatment as Luna.

Pangilinan said Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana should “show Parlade the door.”

Administration Sen. Panfilo Lacson chimed in, saying Parlade’s comments against the reporter were “careless and unnecessary.”

Also voicing its support for the reporter was the Justice and Court Reporters Association (Jucra), of which she is a member.

In a statement, the media group said, “Parlade did not only red-tag Tupas, he also threatened her with prosecution just because she did her job, which all of us in Jucra do every day. Jucra members also reported the Aetas’ petition for intervention, based on the same Supreme Court pleading. Should we all await for a threat from Parlade, too?”

Jucra demanded that Parlade apologize to the Inquirer reporter.

Parlade was accused of adding fuel to the fire after branding Torres-Tupas as a rebel propagandist.

But Parlade defended himself by saying that the story written by Torres-Tupas was unfair as it did not present both sides. Also, he cited errors in fact in the story.

According to Parlade, the reporter was guilty of sloppy writing. Addressing Torres-Tupas, he said, “You did not even bother to check the side of the AFP and government if what you are writing is true or fake. No such thing happened. That unit is not even there but in Davao.”

Those comments could not have come at a worse time, since the new law is being contested in court.

The Supreme Court is currently holding hearings on the controversial law, with recently retired SC justice Antonio Carpio and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales joining opponents who questioned its constitutionality.

Opposition to the law says it diminishes the power of the judiciary, as judges are effectively relegated to being rubber stamps for orders from the executive branch of government.

They say that the law also has too many vague provisions including an Anti-Terrorism Council which is granted powers that belong solely to the judicial branch but which is part of the executive branch.

The law also provides for warrantless arrest, in violation of the Constitution.