Anti-Terror law petitioners hit red-tagging during SC oral arguments

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 14 2021 06:42 PM

Anti-Terror law petitioners hit red-tagging during SC oral arguments 1
Armed Forces of the Philippines former chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon answers questions from the media on Tuesday, 12 December 2017. George Calvelo, ABS CBN News/file

MANILA — Petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act on Friday sought to throw out National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr.’s testimony during Wednesday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court for red-tagging organizations right in front of Supreme Court magistrates.

In a motion filed Friday, petitioners asked the high court to expunge the testimony of Esperon.

Esperon was supposed to testify on several issues that lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), who is defending the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism measure, could not discuss due to lack of personal knowledge.

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These issues ranged from government agencies linking community pantries to communist rebels to statements made by anti-insurgency task force spokesperson and Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr.

Instead of answering questions, petitioners said Esperon made unresponsive statements and played videos involving Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, supposedly identifying organizations allied with the CPP.

“But the supreme irony is that Secretary Esperon was able to engage in red-tagging before this very Court, when red-tagging was one of the grave dangers that impelled petitioners to come to this Court in the first place,” they said in an omnibus or wide-ranging motion.

Petitioners pointed out, Esperon did not even take his oath prior to his interpellation with Supreme Court Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang and presented the 2 videos without authenticating them.

Authentication of electronic evidence like videos is required under the rules on electronic evidence.

Petitioners also accused Esperon of engaging in “defamatory red-tagging.”

During Wednesday’s oral arguments, Esperon played 2 videos of Sison, whom he called “master red-tagger” because Sison supposedly named in 1 of the videos the names of 18 organizations described as “allied organizations” who allegedly mobilized tens of millions to support the so-called national democratic revolution.

In the second video, taken in 1987, Sison named the supposed legal organizations of the national democratic revolution also allegedly known as the armed struggle to overthrow the government.

ABS-CBN News is not disclosing the names of these organizations pending confirmation of any ties to the CPP-NPA or until they give their side.

In a statement Thursday, Sison, also the National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant, accused Esperon of playing an “unauthenticated and obviously spliced video clip.” 

Sison clarified, he did not red-tag legal organizations in his speech in Brussels in Belgium in 1987.

“What I did exactly was to differentiate in fact the open and legal democratic forces in the Philippines from the revolutionary forces of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” he said.

He explained, the 18 self-acknowledged component underground organizations of the NDFP are different from the legal and federated legal member-organizations.

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“It is important for me to expose the perverse and malicious mentality and vicious method by which Esperon and his NTF-ELCAC and ATC abuse the wrongful notion of ‘guilt by association.’ They conflate ‘communism’ and legal social activism of a patriotic and progressive nature. Then, they conflate ‘communism’ and ‘terrorism.’ And finally they conflate ‘communist terrorism’ and social activism,” he said.

“The conflations are done in a series of non sequiturs and a bizarre kind of factually baseless syllogism. When we listen to someone like Esperon, we understand that military intelligence is truly an oxymoron,” he added.

In their omnibus motion, ATA petitioners asked that the oral statement, video presentations and annotations of Esperon be deleted or expunged from the records of the case and that the resumption of his interpellation on Monday, May 17, be cancelled.

“Petitioners submit that respondent Esperon’s statements and so- called evidence should be stricken off the record because they are not responsive to the questions posed. It is in fact ironic that, when the Court wanted to know if the situation today is reminiscent of McCarthyism, he actually engaged in McCarthyite red-tagging, which is deadly business in the Philippines,” they said. 

“No one—specially our government officials—should be allowed to use the proceedings of this Court as a platform to engage in acts that are not only anomalous but downright dangerous,” they added.

Red-tagging, or the labelling of certain groups as being linked to the communist party has become one of the most common topics raised by some magistrates, particularly during their interpellations of the lawyers from the OSG.