‘Sigh of relief’ for high court ruling on grave threat posed by Red-tagging

On Red-tagging

The Marcos administration should declare that it has no Red-tagging policy following the Supreme Court ruling that deems such action as a threat to the life, liberty and security of those being labelled as communist insurgents. And to further ease the fears of activists and human rights defenders, the government should also abolish the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) whose creation in 2018 under the Duterte administration intensified the Red-tagging of individuals and institutions. 

These were among the suggestions made by lawyer Kristina Conti, secretary-general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) in the National Capital Region, in light of the recent high court ruling that was welcomed by activist groups concerned by certain government officials’ penchant to label them as front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

The NUPL and its members were also Red-tagged by former NTF-Elcac officials Lorraine Badoy and retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. A complaint filed against Badoy and Parlade at the Office of the Ombudsman resulted last year in their being found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and reprimanded for their baseless accusation against the NUPL as a communist front organization. The Ombudsman also warned them that they would be dealt with severely should there be a repeat of their offense.

“Somehow we can sigh with relief in a sense that now you can cite something legal,” Conti told CoverStory.ph in a phone interview. 

While before, those Red-tagged had to come up with an explanation on why it put them at risk, now “there are no two ways about it” following the “definitive statement” of the high court, Conti said. 

Writ of amparo

Last May 8, the Supreme Court ruled that Red-tagging, vilification, labelling, and guilt by association threaten a person’s right to life, liberty, or security, and that this may justify the issuance of a writ of amparo.

Written by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda, the ruling granted the writ of amparo to Siegfred Deduro, a former Bayan Muna party list representative, who accused the military under Army Maj. Gen. Eric Vinoya of the 3rd Infantry Division of explicitly identifying him as part of the CPP-NPA.

Deduro said the allegations against him were made in a meeting of the Iloilo Provincial Peace and Order Council on June 19, 2020. Posters labelling him as a communist were also put up in different areas in Iloilo City.

He filed a petition for a writ of amparo—a remedy available to a person whose life, liberty and security are threatened by public or private individuals—at the Iloilo Regional Trial Court to stop Vinoya from Red-tagging him. But the court dismissed his petition, finding his complaint insufficient.

The Supreme Court reversed the Iloilo court’s dismissal of Deduro’s case, saying it effectively denied both Deduro and the Army due process.

Explicit recognition

In an interview with CoverStory.ph on May 17, Conti acknowledged that the ruling would not stop people from being vilified, killed, or caused to disappear if perpetrators carry out a policy to neutralize those they suspect to be tied to the communist insurgency.

“What will be more helpful, or what should follow this Supreme Court ruling, is for the Executive to explicitly recognize it, say it is a good turn of events, and that ‘we will not do Red- tagging’,” she said.

Asked if Red-tagging continues under the Marcos administration, Conti said there are still some officials prone to that practice. She observed that state forces invited to a recent Commission on Human Rights inquiry into Red tagging repeated the line of so-called communist front organizations in the country. 

“If you give them a platform, there are some of them who are inclined to Red-tag people or organizations. Maybe they are not as vocal [as before], but nonetheless, Red-tagging still exists as a practice,” the lawyer said.  

It will be a “good start” if the government abolishes the NTF-Elcac, in which members resort to Red-tagging people and organizations, Conti also said. She pointed out that the task force has “outlived its objective” of approaching the insurgency problem through a whole-of-nation approach because, she said, everyone in the government should be guided by this specific orientation.

With the high court ruling, Conti said, the NTF-Elcac should “seriously reconsider their misconstruction of Red-tagging as truth-tagging because this is misleading.”

She said the task force may now have a hard time hiding under “truth-tagging” given that the high court has “laid down the parameters” on Red-tagging.

Asked whether the NUPL would support moves to punish Red-tagging following the high court’s ruling, Conti said they are backing the bill filed by the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives that “contains consequences against attacks on human rights defenders.”

The measure is now consolidated under House Bill No. 77, or “An Act defining the rights and fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders, declaring state responsibilities, and instituting effective mechanisms for the protection and promotion of these rights and freedoms.”

According to Conti, Red-tagging can be included in the measure to make it comprehensive.

Libel complaints

On Red-tagging
Carol Araullo —FB PHOTO

In the absence of a law criminalizing Red-tagging, victims of the practice such as the NUPL file civil complaints, such as that against Badoy and Parlade, at the Office of the Ombudsman. Others, like Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chair emeritus Carol Araullo, have filed libel complaints in court against Badoy and other officials.

Araullo issued a statement lauding the high court’s “clear, unequivocal, legal and morally binding ruling on Red-tagging,” having been a “target and victim of malicious and unrelenting Red-tagging by former NTF-Elcac spokespersons or those empowered by said malevolent creation by the Duterte administration and retained by the Marcos Jr. [administration].”

“Finally there is no hiding behind the deceptive defense that no law exists defining and proscribing the evil practice as a means by notorious Red-taggers using official and other platforms to evade responsibility for their acts,” Araullo said, adding:

“It should also provide a warning to their unthinking followers, especially on social media, who parrot their line and contribute to what amounts to the public lynching of their targets.” 

Araullo called on those who had been maligned and had suffered the practice’s negative effects to file appropriate charges “against the most notorious Red-taggers as a form of legal pushback.” 

“I also demand accountability for the top officials of the NTF-Elcac. This ruling should lead to the abolition of this abomination,” she said.

In July 2023, Araullo filed a P2-million libel suit against Badoy and Jeffrey Celiz “for their incessant and wanton Red-tagging” that targeted her and her organization on the pair’s television program “Laban Kasama ang Bayan” over Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI).

The operation of SMNI—the broadcasting arm of the Kingdom of Jesus led by the televangelist Apollo Quiboloy, former president Rodrigo Duterte’s spiritual adviser—has been on indefinite suspension by the National Telecommunications Center since January.

Development workers

Meanwhile, Conti said the NUPL is now seeing cases being filed against alleged violators of the Anti-Terrorism Act. 

She said some of those now being charged are “not considered activists in the traditional sense” and include institutions such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a religious organization that is now facing charges of terrorism financing.

“Now they are going after development workers and development groups … and even disaster relief organizations. We are wondering where this is going. It’s an attack on civil society in general,” she said.

Conti said it seemed that “anybody who is supplying aid to the poor, whom the government does not know or find suspicious,” Is being targeted.

She cited the case filed last year against Rosario Brenda Gonzales, “a project evaluator whom the government is now accusing as an NPA member.” Gonzales, a convener of Ascent, or the Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network, is facing terrorism charges along with leaders of other cause-oriented groups for allegedly participating in an encounter between rebels and Army troops in Nueva Ecija in October 2023.

Read more: Fighting back: Activist Carol Araullo takes Red-taggers to court

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