"It is Duterte himself who has encouraged the security sector to bear down hard on suspected communist supporters."
For more than two years, lawyers and lawmakers couldn't quite put a finger on it. It was clearly a crime, except that it was done in the name of national security and counter-terrorism. But how can the noblest of intentions ever justify what amounts to a virtual death warrant for those who hold contrary opinions and are demanding social change?
Horrified by what appears to be a frenzied attempt by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to whip up an anti-communist hysteria in the country and openly brand legal Left personalities and organizations as supporters of the New People's Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has filed a bill that would punish so-called 'Red-tagging' by state agents.
Senate Bill 2121 defines Red-tagging as the labeling, vilifying, branding, naming, accusing, harassing, persecuting, stereotyping, or caricaturing individuals, groups, or organizations as "state enemies, left-leaning, subversives, communists, or terrorists as part of a counter-insurgency or anti-terrorism strategy or program."
"Any state actor, such as a law enforcement agent, paramilitary, or military personnel," guilty of perpetrating these acts "shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of ten (10) years and perpetual absolute disqualification to hold public office."
A former Justice Secretary, Drilon knows whereof he speaks. In his explanatory note in the bill, he decried the "unprecedented rapid escalation of...the State’s malicious labeling and stereotyping of individuals or groups as communists or terrorists."
Upset by what he sees as the "institutionalization and normalization of human rights violations," Drilon said his proposed measure seeks to "fix the legal gaps, address impunity and institutionalize a system of accountability," as well as remind the government of its primary duty under the Constitution to "serve and protect."
Drilon's bill in fact takes exception to the Senate defense committee report dated Feb. 22, 2021 which concluded that legal remedies "are sufficient and available for personalities or groups that have been the subject of the so- called 'Red-tagging.'" We take note that opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros was the only member of the committee who disagreed with the conclusion reached by the majority.
Drilon is correct in saying that "there are no sufficient and available legal remedies for victims of Red-tagging...Victims are left without proper recourse against their perpetrators and are forced to file seemingly-appropriate-but-not-
Interestingly, the Drilon bill has found support from no less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who told media that Red-tagging by certain government officials has become “quite disturbing” as he backed legislation to criminalize the practice.
As of now, Guevarra observed, the acts deemed Red-tagging are not punishable exactly for what they are, so the best that could be done is to file complaints which are somehow related to but do not really capture the essence of the acts being complained of. Hence, Congress should pass the appropriate legislation. “It would be best for Congress to enact a law clearly defining and expressly penalizing what is loosely called today as ‘Red-tagging.’"
Drilon has lauded Guevarra for acknowledging the lack of sufficient and available remedies for victims of Red-tagging: "The opinion of the Secretary of Justice that there is a gap in the law as Red-tagging is presently not a criminal offense under our laws makes the passage of SB 2121 which we filed imperative...Red-tagging threatens the life, liberty, and security of a person... being Red-tagged sometimes serves as a death warrant."
Guevarra's stand on the issue underscores the need to uphold the rule of law and contradicts the position taken by NTF-ELCAC. But we doubt if the Justice Secretary's opinion reflects the thinking of Mr. Duterte, who has ordered State security forces to go hammer and tongs after the CPP-NPA after the collapse of the peace talks in late 2017.
The Drilon bill is also supported by two groups that have been on the receiving end of virulent Red-tagging by the NTF-ELCAC.
For the human rights watchdog Karapatan, "Red-tagging should have no place in a democratic society, and we believe that such measure to penalize it is especially urgent now amid the government's massive Red-tagging campaign targeting human rights defenders, civil society organizations, political activists, and dissenters, and government critics."
For its part, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, whose members have also been Red-tagged by state agents, lamented that the practice "has often led to harassment and violence against its targets and NUJP welcomes moves that will protect journalists from these threats and hold those making them to account."
We fully support the passage of the Drilon bill. But in asking Mr. Duterte to certify the bill as urgent, the senator seems to be asking for the impossible.
The fact is that it is Duterte himself who has encouraged the security sector to bear down hard on suspected communist supporters, even if these are working in legal organizations, as part of his vow to put a definitive end to the armed rebellion by the time he bows out of office on June 30, 2022.[email protected]