How ‘red-tagging’ became front and center, as SC oral arguments on Anti-Terrorism Act draw to a close

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2021 06:35 AM

“Red-tagging” has become front and center of magistrates’ interpellations of representatives of the Office of the Solicitor General defending the law. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA — Activists have long complained about it. Anti-Terrorism Act petitioners raised it in their pleadings. Government lawyers do not wish to recognize the term. 

But as the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the 37 petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terror law draw to a close, “red-tagging” has become front and center of magistrates’ interpellations of representatives of the Office of the Solicitor General defending the law.

Associate Justice Ricardo Rosario first tried to bring up the issue by asking Assistant Solicitor General Marissa Dela Cruz-Galandines last week why the government’s anti-insurgency task force, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), had to “red-tag” organizers of community pantries “without sufficient evidence to prove their alleged connection with communists.”

Rosario’s query was met with a blunt response.

“Your honor, the government does not like to use the term red-tagging. Because red-tagging is a term that was not coined by the government. If I may say this your honor, the term red-tagging was used by the Leftists,” Galandines said.

“It is the submission of the government that what it does is truth-tagging and not red-tagging, your honor,” she added.

But a United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights report in June last year recognized the phenomenon of red-tagging in the Philippines, defining it as the act of labelling individuals or groups (including human rights defenders and NGOs) as communists or terrorists.

A 2015 Supreme Court dissenting opinion by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen also proposed to define the term “red baiting” which he described as the Philippine version of McCarthyism. 

RED-TAGGING VS TRUTH-TAGGING

On Tuesday, Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda sought clarification as to what differentiates “red-tagging” from what the government calls “truth-tagging.”

Galandines said the Philippine government does not have a policy of “red-tagging.”

“For us, truth-tagging is a comprehensive and detailed and careful evaluation of facts and circumstances before the government tags a person or organization. [The] government does a comprehensive and detailed and careful evaluation of facts as opposed to red-tagging, which we submit is not a government policy,” she explained.

But it was Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier who engaged Galandines in a deep dive into the issue.

“Isn’t it that the act of calling a group a leftist a form of red-tagging itself?,” she asked.

Galandines repeated the government line but the magistrate was not buying it.

“Though the term red-tagging is only popularized recently, this does not mean that the concept or act of red-tagging is new. Everyone of us knows what it means. So we readily understood what it means because the government has been doing it before we knew what it was called. Which is why it is we readily understood in local parlance. Isn’t that correct?,” she said.

“We all know what red-tagging means. We cannot deny. Even the young children know what red-tagging is all about.”

LAZARO-JAVIER GOES AFTER PARLADE

Lazaro-Javier then cited the statements in media interviews of a “bemedalled” spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC, referring to Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., without mentioning his name.

Parlade, concurrently the Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command chief, had figured in verbal tussles with various individuals and groups — from actresses Liza Soberano and Angel Locsin to progressive groups whom he accuses, without citing his bases, of being fronts of communist groups.

More recently, Anti-Terror law petitioners called the Supreme Court’s attention to Parlade’s Facebook post warning the public against individuals and groups opposing the ATA, linking them to the CPP-NPA.

The OSG sought to distance the NTF-ELCAC and the AFP from Parlade’s “personal posts,” reiterating this position on Tuesday.

“Since he is a citizen of the Republic of the Philippines, he has the freedom of expression,” Galandines said.

“However, since this is not the official position of the government, I believe the OSG in its comment stated that the position taken by Gen Parlade in social media is not the official position of the AFP nor of the NTF-ELCAC and was not meant to violate the petitioners’ constitutional rights,” she added.

“Has the government ever disavowed his statements?,” Lazaro-Javier asked. 

Galandines could only repeat her response, referring to OSG’s comment.

The magistrate went on to point out that among the groups Parlade red-tagged — Gabriela and Kabataan party-list — were not included in the Anti-Terrorism Council’s resolution in December last year and the 2017 presidential proclamation which declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army terrorists.

“Notably the designation was against the CPP-NPA alone. Kabataan and Gabriela were never mentioned either in the resolution or the proclamation. Does this mean that after all these months of tagging Kabataan and Gabriela as fronts of the CPP-NPA, there is insufficient evidence linking them to said terrorist organizations after all?,” she asked.

Citing factual matters, Galandines referred the query to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, who is scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, May 12.

Lazaro-Javier drove home her point: “Before the government says that a person or group is associated with a designated terror organization, it should have evidence in its possession to support this claim, should it not?”

Progressive groups and activists blame red-tagging for the spate of killings and attacks — from the Bloody Sunday incident which killed 9 activists during the service of search warrants to an attempt against the life of a lawyer in Iloilo. 

Lazaro-Javier mentioned the red-tagging of lawyers and a judge, which prompted the Supreme Court to issue a strongly-worded statement in March.

A submission by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers to the high court in April attributed incidents of red-tagging to State agents.

Former lawmaker Neri Colmenares branded the Anti-Terrorism Act the “mother of all red-tagging” because it allegedly authorizes a purely executive body, the Anti-Terrorism Council, to designate certain individuals and groups as terrorists, without the benefit of hearing.

LEONEN: NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING COMMUNIST

For his part, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen called for caution in dealing with a matter that may not be truly understood.

He pointed out that terrorism goes beyond communist terrorism and communism is not a crime in itself.

The Anti-Subversion Law, which made membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines illegal, was repealed in 1992.

“Why is it so wrong to be a communist? Is it wrong to be a communist? As a SolGen, is it wrong to be a communist? And your answer should be no. It's not wrong to be communist, every person should be entitled to their political view,” he said. 

“And to be communist does not mean CPP-NPA. To be communist means you believe in the writings of Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto and the Communist International, or did you not know that?,” he asked.

Leonen discussed at some point the many factions within the communist movement — from the reaffirmists and rejectionists of the national democratic movement to the social democratic movement and the many types of Marxists, Leninists, and Maoists.

“Are we going after those that we deem leftist simply because we feel them as leftist? And contrary to the opinion of others, being leftist is again pejorative, because it reflects on whoever is labeling that person. 

“What if I told you I’m socialist? Am I leftist? What if I told you that in the heart of my hearts, I believe that the ownership of means of production should be in the hands of workers, am I communist?,” he asked.

Galandines could only respond in agreement. 

“We should never punish an ideology, your honor.”

The Supreme Court is winding down oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act, expected to end on Wednesday afternoon.

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