Should red-tagging be criminalized? Some senators say definition must be settled first

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 03 2021 09:32 PM | Updated as of Mar 04 2021 05:30 AM

Should red-tagging be criminalized? Some senators say definition must be settled first 1
Health workers and advocates hold a protest against the alleged worsening attacks, red-tagging, and smear campaigns against health professionals, outside the Department of National Defense (DND) headquarters in Quezon City on May 31, 2019. Jire Carreon, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - The Senate on Wednesday discussed the proposal to penalize individuals engaged in red-tagging, especially if such is committed by government officials.

Lawmakers, however, said the definition of red-tagging should be settled first. 

Sen. Franklin Drilon said the Senate should adopt the definition of red-tagging or red-baiting from the definition of Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen in a promulgated decision made Nov. 2015 on the case of Rep. Isagani Zarate and former president Benigno Aquino III. 

Red-tagging in the document read as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists. Uses a strategy by state agents particularly by law enforcement,” Sen. Ping Lacson told the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation. 

Lacson, however, was firm that there would be no need to criminalize red-tagging because of the presence of laws concerning libel, cyber-libel, slander, grave threats that could be available to people who might be red-tagged. 

But Drilon countered this, pointing out that the laws were not a deterrent for red-tagging. It still has its chilling effect, he said, and recommended that red-tagging should be punished separately. 

“The reason we are suggesting this is so that… if the red-tagging does not serve any purpose, then it should be prohibited and penalized,” according to Drilon, 

“This would just be applicable to future acts so that we can have a law which can effectively influence the behavior of people by penalizing red-tagging and maybe we can find a penalty, a solution which will make it an effective deterrent for its commission,” the lawmaker explained. 

The lawmaker also explained that it is too early to say that red-tagging should or should not be criminalized. He proposed instead a committee that would study and make recommendations on the matter.

“Let us have the appropriate committee to study it appropriately and recommend through a bill or a report of the committee that they are not in favor of penalizing red-tagging separately. Let us not foreclose the possibility of that bill being studied with all these concerns taken to account,” he said. 

Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, said that the United Nations described the term red-tagging as having a chilling effect on the efforts of human rights activists.

In a Senate hearing in December last year on the rampant red-tagging activities of state forces against government critics and activists, former Ateneo School of Government dean Antonio Laviña said the act is "terrorism in its worst form."

La Viña warned that baseless linking of individuals and groups to the armed insurgency has become harmful because it is amplified through social media.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier “laughed” at the idea of criminalizing red-tagging, according to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, citing the supposed shallowness of the proposal. 

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ACCOUNTABILITY ON RED-TAGGING SOUGHT

The Senate panel also recommended that a clear policy by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) leadership must be made on how to deal with accountability of its official who speaks on behalf of an entity outside the military organization’s command structure, such as the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for example. 

Resolution No. 559, that Lacson sponsored, recommended that Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade should not be holding two positions -- one in the AFP and one in a civilian organization as NTF-ELCAC spokesperson. 

Lacson said there might be confusion with his role, since whatever Parlade says in the task force could be reflected with the AFP or his chain of command. 

Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, on the other hand, said that Parlade should be accountable for his statements. 

The AFP, Pangilinan pointed out, should never tolerate such transgressions because it appeared that the general bypassed AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana. 

“Professionalism of the AFP rests in the chain of command and [in] this situation, the discipline of the Armed Forces is compromised,” he explained. 

A lawyer's group earlier urged the Armed Forces to fire Parlade for his alleged persistent red-tagging claims, the latest of which involved a journalist whom he accused of being a propagandist.

The military official has also drawn flak on social media for insinuating that several celebrities are also allegedly supporters of the communist movement. 

Parlade has been using social media to call out suspected members and sympathizers of the New Peoples' Army in the midst of the government's crackdown on communist rebels.

- Report from Isay Reyes, ABS-CBN News