MANILA - Lawyers who have been linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) are pushing back and going after government officials making the allegations.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) on Wednesday filed a new complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman seeking the dismissal of 3 officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict whom it accused of “red-tagging.”
The NUPL named National Security Adviser and NTF-ELCAC Vice Chair retired Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Commander and NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. and Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy, who is also a member of the task force, as respondents.
They are accused of grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the service, grave abuse of authority and violating the Ombudsman Act (RA 6770) and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713).
The NUPL urged the Office of the Ombudsman to suspend the 3 pending investigation.
According to the complaint, Parlade, on various occasions, accused NUPL of being “communist fronts” and its chair Atty. Neri Colmenares and other Makabayan bloc members as “card-bearing members” of the CPP.
Parlade also allegedly claimed that NUPL is part of the “international network” of the CPP-NPA that allegedly receive funds and publish inaccurate reports to present a “tyrannical and oppressive Philippine government.” He accused the group of defrauding the United Nations and of plotting to oust President Rodrigo Duterte, the complaint said.
Parlade went to the extent of calling NUPL lawyers “manananggal,” a mythical Filipino creature and a wordplay on “manananggol,” Filipino word for defender, based on NUPL’s complaint.
Aside from the NUPL, Parlade also tied other groups like Ibon, Karapatan, Gabriela, Bayan, Bayan Muna and Kilusang Mayo Uno to the CPP-NPA.
The complaint, meanwhile, described Badoy as a “rabid red-baiter,” who accused Colmenares of being a high-ranking member of the CPP-NPA-NDF (National Democratic Front) in several Facebook posts.
Esperon, for his part, is accused of adopting and sanctioning the statements of Parlade and Badoy, being the vice chair of NTF-ELCAC and the Anti-Terrorism Council, and of claiming that some members of NUPL are members of the CPP.
“As in the case of respondent Parlade, respondents Badoy and Esperon have viciously, relentlessly, baselessly and maliciously, without any credible, competent and admissible evidence in fact and in law that can stand in an impartial tribunal, uttered, instigated, induced, goaded, tolerated, condoned and sanctioned such scurrilous attacks on NUPL, its members and complainants, using their public office and public funds,” the complaint said.
These statements, according to NUPL, show a clear pattern of NUPL lawyers being “discriminated, persecuted and harassed” for their membership in the group and “on account of the cases, client and advocacies that they take on.”
“Napatunayan na ng karanasan namin na kapag ikaw ay na-redtag, nagdudulot ito ng danger o risk sa buhay namin. Ito ay nakakasagka sa malayang practice ng aming propesyon lalo na sa aming human rights lawyers na ang aming sinumpaang tungkulin ay magbigay ng tulong na legal sa mga inaapi at maralita,” said NUPL spokesperson Josalee Deinla, shortly after the filing of the complaint.
(Based on our experience, red-tagging poses danger or risk to our lives. This hinders us from freely practicing our profession as human rights lawyers sworn to provide legal help to the oppressed and the poor.)
They cited numerous incidents of red-tagging in the past consisting of posters labelling them as communists in various parts of the country.
As a result, one of their members, lawyer Benjamin Ramos, NUPL-Negros secretary general, was gunned down in November 2018 while NUPL officers Edre Olalia and Ephraim Cortez were supposedly tailed and harassed by alleged military undercover agents, they said.
“Sa halip na makapag-focus kami sa mga kasong hinahawakan namin, sa aming mga adbokasiya, nariyan yung pangamba, kailangan naming mag-ingat at kailangan naming sagutin kung anu-anong paratang na wala namang basehan at malisyoso,” Deinla said, who herself had to deal with trolls on her social media accounts calling for physical harm on lawyers.
(Instead of focusing on the cases that we handle, on our advocacy, we attend to our fears, and we need to be careful and answer baseless and malicious allegations.)
The NUPL previously sought protection from the courts through a writ of amparo and habeas data, but their petition was junked by the Court of Appeals and is now on appeal before the Supreme Court.
For the NUPL, vilifying its members unsupported by sufficient evidence is “contrary to law, oppressive, unfair, discriminatory and devoid of justification,” violating section 19 of the Ombudsman Act.
The same discrimination, it said, also violates the provisions of the Code of Conduct for public officials and employees requiring justness and sincerity as well as commitment to democracy from government officials.
The group further accused the 3 officials of abusing their government position in deliberately vilifying NUPL and its members, which it says is a grave offense that deserves dismissal from government service.
This is the 5th complaint lodged against Esperon, Parlade and Badoy.
Ibon, Karapatan, and lawmakers Rep. Carlos Zarate and Rep. Sarah Elago have filed similar complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman.
For NUPL lawyers like Deinla, it’s time for a counter-offensive after having been at the receiving end of relentless “red-tagging.”
They are hoping to exact accountability from government officials.
“Dapat kinikilala at iginagalang yung karapatan sa malayang pagpapahayag at yung karapatan sa malayang asosasyon ng mga mamamayan. Kagaya namin na pinili naming maging abokasya yung pagtatanggol sa karapatang pantao,” she said.
(The people's right to freedom of expression and the freedom of association must be respected. Like us, we chose to become lawyers to protect human rights.)
“Hindi kami dapat inaatake dahil sa mga pinaniniwala namin, na ginagawa ng estado, na paglabag sa karapatang pantao ng mga mamamayan,” she added.
(We shouldn't be attacked because of our belief that what the State is doing is against human rights.)
Amid the spate of red-tagging reports earlier this year, the Commission on Human Rights issued a statement in May reminding the government that the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law in 1992 also meant that being part of the CPP is no longer illegal.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra issued the same statement in August last year.
"Mere membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines (subversion) is not a crime unless overt criminal acts are committed," he said.
"Being leftist is far from being terrorist. As long as activism remains in the realm of ideology, there is nothing to be alarmed about. But once it flows into overt acts that threaten the national security or at least cause widespread fear among the people, government has to step in, and step in really hard," he also told reporters then.