As Senate holds hearing on red-tagging, Amnesty urges end to 'deadly practice'

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
As Senate holds hearing on red-tagging, Amnesty urges end to 'deadly practice'
In this file photo from 2019, members of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines burn a black streamer accusing the NUJP and other groups of being terrorists.
Photo courtesy of Menzie Montes of Magnum Radyo 99.9 in Cagayan de Oro City.

MANILA, Philippines —  Rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday urged the Philippine government to put a stop to what it called the cruel and lethal practice of red-tagging. 

"As a Senate committee begins its inquiry into the issue on 3 November 2020, Amnesty International calls on the Philippine government to end its vicious and at times deadly practice of red-tagging — the labeling of groups or individuals perceived to be critical of the government as 'communists' or 'terrorists,'" a statement from the human rights watchdog reads. 

The hearing, conducted by the Senate committee on national defense, was spurred by recent accusations hurled against public figures and a women's group by Lt.Gen. Antionio Parlade, spokesman for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

"Instead of maligning and endangering people for the lawful exercise of their freedom of expression, the government should seek to address legitimate criticism of its policies and practices. In the prevailing context where red-tagged individuals become the targets of harassment, threats and even killings, courts and pertinent government agencies must take concrete steps to ensure the safety and protection of these individuals," the rights watchdog said. 

The NTF-ELCAC has described Amnesty International as being in a "broad alliance" with communist rebels.  

'Red-tagging intensified under Duterte administration'

While red-tagging has been happening in the Philippines for decades, Amnesty International said it intensified under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte following the breakdown of peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines in 2017. 

"Duterte’s subsequent Executive Order (EO) 70 provides for a 'Whole-of-Nation approach in defeating the Local Communist Terrorist Groups' and led to the creation of the NTF-ELCAC. Observers point to this moment in time as the beginning of a renewed campaign of red-tagging, threats and harassment against human rights defenders, political activists, lawyers, trade unionists and other targeted groups perceived to be affiliated with the progressive left." 

The watchdog also cited the calls made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other human rights organizations to end this approach as it has "led to an increase in human rights violations against human rights defenders and political activists across the country." 

Amnesty emphasized the increasing cases of killings, arrests, and detention of red-tagged individuals by security forces — specifically enumerating the recent killings of peace consultant and peasant activist Randy Echanis and human rights defender Zara Alvarez. 

The rights watchdog also cited the continued detention of Reina Mae Nasino, a member of urban poor group Kadamay, who lost her three-month-old baby who was separated from her at one-month-old. 

READ: Still in cuffs, jailed activist buries baby born while behind bars

"Amnesty International is concerned that killings, arrests and detention of political activists and human rights defenders will continue as long as indiscriminate red-tagging by the government persists." 

It also flagged the implementing rules and regulations of the much-feared Anti Terrorism Act of 2020 which "gives power to an Anti-Terrorism Council – composed of presidential appointees – to publish the names of those it designates on its own as 'terrorists.'" 

The rights watchdog said such a practice would go against international standards on due process and the presumption of innocence. 

READ: 'Mother of red-tagging': No process yet to remove names from terror list

Akbayan: Red-tagging muzzles dissent, freedom of expression

Akbayan Citizens' Action Party on Tuesday condemned "the act of maliciously, sweepingly and without basis labelling, branding and accusing citizens [and] organizations as 'communists,' to harass the public and muzzle the voice of dissent and freedom of expression." 

"Red-tagging is a relic of a dark past. It has no space in modern democracy," the political party emphasized in a statement. 

It added that it was never part of the CPP-NPA contrary to claims of military officials that they are a "rejectionist" faction of the communist inusrgency, emphasizing that its history and ideology are totally independent.

In any case, being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines has not been a crime in the Philippines since the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law in 1992. The CPP and the NPA have yet to be proscribed under the new Anti-Terrorism Act.  

"Akbayan is the party of Senator Risa Hontiveros, former CHR Chairperson Etta Rosales, Dinagat Governor Kaka Bag-ao, renowned feminist Sylvia 'Guy' Claudio and former partylist representatives Walden Bello, Atty. Barry Gutierrez, Tom Villarin, Dr. Mayong Aguja and Angelina Katoh," the party said. 

"It is a proud sister party to Jacinda Ardern's New Zealand Labor Party, Malaysia's Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Finnish Labor Party, Germany's SPD and hundreds of democratic socialist, social democratic and labor parties worldwide. Akbayan also shares the same democratic ideals with former Chilean socialist President and now United Nations Human Rights Chair Michelle Bachelet and Portuguese socialist and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres." 

Parlade recently praised Akbayan as "a good left group" but its chair emeritus Etta Rosales called out his statement as a "crude attempt at false flattery to sow political intrigue and justify the red-tagging of civilians."

The party has routinely condemned both the CPP-NPA and state security forces for perceived abuses. "For Akbayan, abuse is abuse whether it is committed by the NPA or military. It will not tolerate either," it said.






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