MANILA (UPDATE)— A former lawmaker said Monday an apology from the military was not enough to compensate for the danger it created when it released a list of UP students who allegedly joined communist rebels.
Red-tagging could be intentional on the part of government forces as a prelude to designation of terrorists under the new law, said Neri Colmenares, chairman of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and former Bayan Muna representative.
“Ang sorry ng AFP, hindi sincere yan hangga’t hindi nila hinihinto ang red-tagging. Ang point diyan talaga, ihinto ang red-tagging. Sorry ka nang sorry tapos bukas ituloy mo ang red-tagging? Hindi ka sincere. Wala sa puso mo yang sorry, kunyari ka lang,” he said in a forum.
(The AFP’s apology won’t be sincere unless they stop red-tagging. The point is, stop red-tagging. You keep on apologizing and the next day, you continue red-tagging? You’re not sincere. Your sorry didn’t come from the heart, you’re just pretending.)
“Hindi sapat ang sorry. Ihinto niyo ang red-tagging. Yan talaga ang patunay na inaamin niyo na nagkakamali kayo,” he stressed.
(Sorry is not enough. Stop red-tagging. That’s the best proof you are admitting you made a mistake.)
Colmenares was reacting to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statement that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will apologize to lawyer Rafael Aquino for being included in the list when he never joined the rebel group.
Lorenzana himself called the error “an unpardonable gaffe.”
Aquino, a former student leader from the University of the Philippines, is a senior partner of a private law firm and a volunteer lawyer of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG). He sought an apology from the AFP last week.
“Not being NPA to begin with, I was never captured by the military. I also did not have the opportunity to be killed by the military or anyone else; I am very much alive,” Aquino said in a statement.
Aside from Aquino, 2 other lawyers were included in the AFP’s list — former Integrated Bar of the Philippines national president and board of governors chairperson Roan Libarios and Alexander Padilla, a former president of the UP Law Student Government who has served the government in various capacities.
Padilla issued a statement Saturday belying the allegations.
“I am appalled and disgusted how the government cavalierly plays with the lives of innocent people on that list,” he said.
IBP National President Domingo Egon Cayosa on Monday issued a separate statement denouncing the “ridiculous red-tagging.”
“The named lawyers are not members of the New People’s Army (NPA). They were never captured. They are very much alive, not dead,” he said, pointing out the repercussions of associating individuals with rebel groups.
“IBP decries red-tagging as it compromises the security and safety of the subjects, besmirches their reputation, causes unwarranted risks, tension, and distress to their families, friends and loved ones. More importantly, red-tagging is unfair, illegal, and disregardsd due process and the rule of law,” he added.
The national lawyers’ group urged government authorities to “right the wrong and set firm policies against red-tagging.”
Colmenares said the AFP’s erroneous list was indicative of the government’s “shallow” standard of evidence.
“Palagi nilang sinasabi komunista, NPA tapos kapag tinatanong ‘anong ebidensya?,’ wala, from reliable sources. Talagang unjust yun sa mga biktima. Kasi malalagay sa panganib yung buhay mo, pero wala namang ebidensya. Parang narco-list lang ito na kung saan-saan lang pinulot,” he said.
(They keep saying “communists.” But when you ask what’s the evidence? There’s none, ony from reliable sources. That’s really unjust for the victims. Because you put their lives in dangers without any evidence. It’s like the narco-list which they obtained somewhere.)
“Kailangan nila, politically, birahin ka at ang intention nila ay i-isolate ka para pag nagdesignation na sila, ang ini-expect nila na sabihin ng mga tao, ‘ay komunista naman talaga,’” he claimed.
(They need to attack you politically with the intention of isolating you so that when you are designated [as a terrorist], they expect people to say he/she’s really a communist.)
“Ang problema nila, maraming nago-oppose sa red-tagging nila. Kaya hindi nila basta-basta ma-designate,” he added.
(The problem is, many oppose red-tagging that’s why they could not easily designate anyone.)
Colmenares intends to raise the issue before the Supreme Court during the oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism law.
Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and his fellow-petitioners have filed a manifestation before the high court Friday calling attention to a post purportedly by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., Southern Luzon Command chief and spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
“All of these, only bolsters our argument that the Terror law is not intended for so-called terrorists. It’s intended for the likes of Atty Aquino, or si Atty Evalyn Ursua who is also experiencing harassment. At marami pang petitioners na ang iba dito ay, in fact, may mga nag-appear sa Senate hearing na naaresto recently. It only shows the dangers of red-tagging,” Colmenares said.
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite meanwhile denounced Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) Commissioner Melvin Mitra after the latter tagged UP Mountaineers as "heavily influenced by communists."
Mitra reportedly made the accusation in an online talks show 3 days ago, but retracted his statement through a post in his Facebook account.
"The impunity of government officials to cavalierly name or red-tag individuals and organizations as communists, communist fronts or communist influenced must not remain unpunished. It creates a chilling effect. Despite the withdrawal, the intended damage has already been done.
"Such accusations puts the lives of people in danger, and opens them to attack by state forces. Laluna itong mga mountaineers na talagang namumundok, parang sinasabi niya sa mga sundalo na atakihin itong mga kabataang ito kapag namataan sa bundok," said Gaite.
The Supreme Court is set to hold oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act on Tuesday, February 2.