MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte "laughed" at the idea of criminalizing red tagging, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Wednesday, after proposals to impose penalties against linking individuals to the communist movement were raised in a Senate hearing.
"I told the president last night of the idea of some to criminalize red tagging, he laughed!" Sotto told reporters in a text message.
"Napakalabo! It’s like criminalizing name-calling. Paano 'yung sinasabihan ng fascist? Narcissist? Hindi bawal? 'Yun yellow? Bawal din?" he said.
(It's crazy! It’s like criminalizing name-calling. What about those called fascist? Narcissist? Is that not allowed? What about those called yellow? Should that be disallowed too?)
Prior to meeting with Duterte on Tuesday night, Sotto had rejected the idea during the Senate Committee on National Defense's hearing on red tagging.
Those "offended" for being linked to the communist insurgency should just file libel cases against their accusers, the Senate President said.
But other senators, including Senate Committee on National Defense chair Panfilo Lacson, said they were willing to study the suggestion of constitutionalist Antonio Laviña, a law expert and former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.
"The proposal is worth looking into," opposition Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said in a statement.
"Red-tagged individuals have also become target of killings, harassment and threats, and the impunity persists because no one is punished for such acts," he said.
"Right now, victims of red-tagging can resort to filing of administrative cases before the Ombudsman, but which appears to have little dent," he said.
Lacson earlier said that he was "seriously considering" the proposal.
"As a matter of fact, I am seriously considering the recommendation to criminalize red tagging as long as such legislation will not infringe on the bill of rights involving freedom of speech and expression," he said.
The Senate first needs to consult the Department of Justice if criminalizing red tagging would affect the constitutional right to free speech, he said.
The Senate began tackling the issue of red tagging after some military officials labeled as communist supporters several opposition lawmakers and celebrities who expressed dismay over the government's COVID-19 response plans.