'Terrorism in its worst form': Constitutionalist urges Senate to criminalize red tagging

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 02 2020 10:55 AM | Updated as of Dec 02 2020 10:57 AM

'Terrorism in its worst form': Constitutionalist urges Senate to criminalize red tagging 1
Health workers and advocates hold a protest against the alleged worsening attacks, red-tagging and smear campaign 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 - A constitutional expert on Tuesday urged senators to criminalize red tagging, saying the baseless linking of individuals to the armed insurgency is "terrorism in its worst form."

Military officials and former New Peoples Army (NPA) members "endanger" the people who they accuse of being either communist members and or communist fronts, former Ateneo School of Government dean Antonio Laviña said during the Senate's third hearing on red tagging.

"I appeal to the Senate to criminalize red tagging because it is terrorism in its worst form," he said.

"My intervention here is the harm you give young people and organizations when you red tag them," said Laviña, the legal counsel of Kabataan Party-list members who are accused of being communist members.

"Targeting the youth is the worst thing you could do for the future of this country... Red tagging them and accusing them endangers their future and that is a danger for the country," he said.

The state should protect "young people regardless of ideological persuasions," Laviña said.

"My responsibility as a lawyer and as a teacher is to make sure that they will survive any moment of time... because we need every young person to counter very serious problems," he said, citing climate change as one issue that the youth could solve.

"We need all the young people regardless of ideological persuasion. It is very important to protect those young people," he said.

Last month, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago wept during a Senate hearing as she denied that she was a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and slammed government propagandists who have been maligning her on social media.

Military officials tend to "resort to stereotyping" vocal government dissenters and human rights defenders, Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Karen Dumpit told senators.

"Red tagging is a matter of serious concern that should not be taken lightly... Aside from the delegitimization of dissent... it is often a prelude or even an open invitation for anyone to commit atrocities against the persons tagged," she said.

"Red tagging or red baiting still continues to threaten life, liberty and security of human rights defenders across sectors," she said.

Senate Committee on National Defense chair Panfilo Lacson said he would consult the Department of Justice (DOJ) if there was "enough basis" to criminalize red tagging.

"Kasi baka bumangga sa freedom of expression (It might go against freedom of expression)... I really want to pick the brain of the DOJ," he said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said people who were red tagged should just file libel cases against their accusers.

"It falls in the category of libel... I think that is food for thought for those who were offended for being called Reds," he said.

"You may think about that instead of having Congress discuss it and file a bill, which I think at this point would be difficult to do," he said.

Makabayan Coalition chair Neri Colmenares said red tagging should be treated on a different level as it involved the use of public funds to malign government critics.

"'Yung mga ordinary people, hindi naman ganun kadali mag-file ng cases... They are not on the same level," he said.

(It is not easy for ordinary people to file cases.)

Lacson ended the hearing telling military officials to bring their allegations before the judiciary.

"At the end of the day, the only venue that can interpret if there was a violation is the court," Lacson said.

"If you believe you have enough evidence to secure a conviction, then go ahead. Nobody is stopping you. In fact, they (Makabayan coalition members) are challenging you," he said.