On Aug. 24, 2022, nearly a week before the Philippines commemorated National Heroes Day, Adora Faye de Vera, 66, was arrested in Quezon City. The police identified Adora as a staff officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front and a secretary of the central front of the CPP-NPA-NDF in Western Visayas. She was in hiding since she was indicted on charges of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder with the use of explosives, particularly anti-personnel landmines.

The arrest could have been among everyday news, until it surfaced that Adora is an elder sister of Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairman Prospero de Vera 3rd. He was an appointee of then-President Rodrigo Duterte and is among the very few government executives reappointed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

In a statement, the CHEd chairman steered away from his sister. He claimed he has never seen or spoken to her in 25 years. Mr. de Vera declared that he neither supports her actions nor shares her views as he vowed to rally behind the Marcos administration's efforts to end the communist insurgency in the country that has "destroyed so many lives and property."

The incident prompted Sen. Francis Tolentino to take the rostrum in a Senate plenary session. He proposed that government officials should disclose if they have "a relative within the fourth degree of consanguinity who is a member of a terrorist organization, [or] who is an affiliate of an organization that seeks to overthrow the Republic of the Philippines." The lawmaker from Cavite is afraid that members of a terrorist organization could gain access to classified information bearing on national security through their relatives who are appointed or elected government officials. A valid observation, concern and recommendation by a lawmaker who also wears a reservist rank of brigadier general in the Philippine Army. And why not?

In vying for admission as cadet, enlistment or commission as an officer in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), one requirement is thorough background investigation. The AFP, and other security-related agencies of the government for that matter, holds vast information vital to national interest, the compromise of which will be detrimental to national survival. Security clearances in various levels in a hierarchy are issued to select personnel depending on the level of sensitivity of data or information they are given access to. While this one shows the degree of prudence and diligence observed in these agencies of the government, background investigation is not the one being proposed but mere disclosure.

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In accomplishing a Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN, public officials must disclose under oath the identity of their relatives in the government, business interests, and even financial connections. Relatedly, government officials who undergo confirmation proceedings with the Commission on Appointments must state in an affidavit that they are not related "within fourth-degree of consanguinity or affinity" to any appointed or elected official or occupying director-level position in government-controlled corporations. These seek to preclude government officials from exerting undue influence or enriching themselves while in office. If this can be required in the interest of ethics and public accountability, why not impose the same in the interest of national security? The government has the right to know who its appointed officials are. That is due diligence. The public has every right to know who the candidates vying for government posts are. That is right to information.

Government officials being asked to declare their association or affiliation by consanguinity or affinity to a member of a terrorist organization is not to assign fault or blame to that public officer. We agree that Mr. de Vera is blameless for being a sibling of Adora because he is "not his sister's keeper" as Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. puts it. But the government is entitled to know, nonetheless.

SEN. Lorna Regina “Loren” Legarda. File Photo
SEN. Lorna Regina “Loren” Legarda. File Photo

Senator Tolentino's call for disclosure propelled Sen. Loren Legarda to take the floor and shot down her colleague's proposal, calling it a "difficult proposition." Holder of a reservist rank of colonel in the Philippine Air Force, she defended government officials like Mr. de Vera. While Sen. Tolentino was "not ascribing any fault" to the CHEd chairman, Senator Legarda finds no reason to judge the latter by his relationship to Adora. She referred to Adora, a ranking CPP-NPA-NDF official, as a member of "advocacy groups and nongovernment organizations critical of the government" who only wants "social justice." That acclamation nearly threw me off my seat!

How in heaven's name can Senator Legarda claim that she cannot recall any government pronouncement declaring the CPP-NPA-NDF an enemy of the state, even calling some persons "heroes who may be associated with the CPP"? How can NPA members, who committed innumerable crimes and atrocities and untold sufferings against fellow Filipinos in the countryside for 53 years, be called "heroes" and heralded on National Heroes Day along with Dr. Jose Rizal? How can she feign ignorance on how the CPP, the NPA and the NDF work in harmony to overthrow the government through protracted warfare while flaunting her being a fellow at General Staff College and National Defense College of the Philippines? If she did not learn from both colleges where she had her security studies that the CPP-NPA-NDF is an enemy of the state, she could have known, as a former congresswoman of Antique, that this triumvirate of terrorist organizations has been declared as such by the Philippine government. The CPP-NPA-NDF was also categorized as such by other countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and by the European Union.

It is not surprising that Bayan Muna immediately came to the aid of Senator Legarda just as voters lament having elected her back to Congress and bash her in the process. She must respect the people expressing disdain for her views because they are entitled to theirs. But never again should this Republic allow the resumption of "peace talks" with these terrorist CPP-NPA-NDF members. They are terrorists in every sense of the word and to revive them from their last dying breath is to turn our back on thousands of Filipinos whom they have caused to suffer, maim or murder.

And the Anti-Terrorism Law, the constitutionality of which was upheld by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, must remain undisturbed. One must be a terrorist or has inclinations to be one to be in conflict with this statute.