DOJ to review report uploaded on website that red-tagged lawmakers

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice has no policy of "red-tagging" as it vowed to review a report uploaded on its website branding minority lawmakers as representing party-lists allegedly formed by the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“As far as the Department of Justice is concerned, we do not have such policy as red-tagging or something like that,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a mix of English and Filipino on Friday.

During the department’s budget hearing at the House of Representatives, Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) took exception to “The Philippine Human Rights Situationer” report that a copy of which is uploaded on the DOJ’s website.

Part of the said report read: “In Congress, three resolutions were filed by known [Communist Party of the Philippines]-created party-lists, namely, Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) calling for the abolition of E.O. 70.”

Red-tagging not a DOJ policy

Zarate said: “I take exceptions, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Chair. We are not created by the CPP. Bayan Muna, ACT teachers, Gabriela—we are legally-registered party... We are duly elected by our constituencies.”

The lawmaker asked if red-tagging has become a policy of the department, the very agency where groups run to file criminal complaints and seek legal remedies.

Zarate pressed: “Does this mean that the department now would ignore complaints against red-tagging, and even crackdown since according to this framework that you also uploaded in your website, which you are also a part of, we are created by the CPP-[New Peoples Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines]?” Zarate added.

The report was collated by the Department of Foreign Affairs, while information came from different Philippine government agencies.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said that DOJ’s participation in the crafting of the report was information on its mechanism under Administrative Order 35, which forms special investigation teams to review cause-oriented killings. He explained that the report was uploaded on DOJ’s website as part of DFA’s request to disseminate the document.

But Zarate pointed out that the report being accessed on the DOJ’s website may mean there is “tacit endorsement” of its contents. “It casts a doubt, pardon me for saying this, that if it is on your website, you accept the report wholly,” the lawmaker added.

Guevarra referred to Perete’s explanation that it was uploaded on the request of another agency. “It does not mean that all things written on the report is affirmed by the DOJ,” he added.

Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers party-list), meanwhile, asked Guevarra if the department will review the said report.

Guevarra assured the lawmakers that they will review the document. “If there’s anything that we need to clarify so it will not be perceived that everything that is written there is also being adopted by the DOJ as agency,” he said.

“We will issue an appropriate statement if necessary to make the proper clarification,” the DOJ chief said, adding that the a copy of the review will also be submitted to the plenary.

Red-tagging in a time of anti-terrorism law

Zarate explained that the human rights report on the DOJ website is more than just name-calling. “There are grave implications knowing for a fact that there is now a terrorism law,” he pointed out.

Red-tagging is defined by Philippine jurisprudence as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy... by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State.’”

Rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos and Karapatan parelegal Zara Alvarez were both “red-tagged” in posters that were circulated before they were killed in 2018 and 2020, respectively.

Zarate is one of the dozens of petitioners challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 before the Supreme Court.

Guevarra, as DOJ chief, sits as part of the Anti-Terrorism Council. The panel, under the anti-terrorism law, can designate terrorism suspects based on probable cause.

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