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Ramped-up red-tagging a prelude to crackdown under anti-terror law, Casiño warns
In this screengrab taken on Nov. 4, 2020, former Rep. Teddy Casiño (Bayan Muna Party-list) addresses the Senate defense committee during a hearing on red-tagging.
Screen grab/ Senate of the Philippines

Ramped-up red-tagging a prelude to crackdown under anti-terror law, Casiño warns

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - November 24, 2020 - 1:43pm

MANILA, Philippines — An activist and former lawmaker on Tuesday warned that the red-tagging by security forces is a prelude to a harsher crackdown on critics and groups under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

The military and police — as well as groups Hands Off Our Children and Liga Independencia Pilipinas — have been accusing legal activist organizations of being fronts for communist rebels.

"This propaganda blitz is apparently aimed to prepare public opinion for the eventual designation and proscription of our organizations as terrorist groups, the criminalization of dissent using the unconstitutional provisions of the [anti-terror] law, and the perpetuation of President Duterte’s tyrannical regime," former Rep. Teddy Casiño (Bayan Muna Party-list) told a Senate panel as it resumed its probe on red-tagging.

He further appealed to the Senate in Filipino: "I hope you stop this red-tagging and terrorist labeling. This is a fascist ploy to suppress the people and target legal organizations with counter-insurgency operations. This is part of the attempt to neutralize if not to kill those who do not agree with the current administration."

Casiño: Bayan not part of underground communist movement

Speaking for the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, an umbrella group of national democratic actvist organizations, Casiño disputed allegations made by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) at the previous hearing held by the Senate defense committee.

"The truth is, Mr. Chair, our organization is not the front of the [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front] or any other group," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations in a 2017 proclamation. The NDF, which represents the rebels at peace talks, was not included in the proclamation. Duterte's declaration is diferent from proscription by a court, a petition for which is still pending. 

"We are also not doing anything illegal. If they have credible and admissible proof that we are engaged in prohibited activities, then they should file an appropriate case in court, not badmouth us and put our lives in danger," Casiño also said, partially in Filipino.

Following the hearing on November 4, where he was identified and red-tagged by the NTF-ELCAC, Casiño said he feared for his and his family's safety.

Crackdown on activists, opposition

"What I really fear, Mr. Chair, is that what happened to my friends Randy Malayao, Zara Alvarez, Jory Porquia and many other activists whom they accused of being communists before being killed will also happen to me," he said in Filipino.

READ: CHR to look into NDFP consultant Malayao's killing | Another activist shot dead, this time in Bacolod | INTERAKSYON: #StopTheKillings: Renewed calls to end impunity as Filipinos decry recent killings of activists

Walking the Senate through the dangers of red-tagging, Casiño said that accusations against personalities and groups are hurled by state agents to intimidate and to tarnish reputations in order to justify murder.

"Its common victims are activists and those who serve the poor and oppressed, members of the opposition, the media, critics and those who do not agree with the government," he said in Filipino.

"Red-tagging is guilt by association with our accusers playing the role of judge, jury and executioner," said Casiño.

He further said that those who are red-tagged are often intimidated into staying silent for fear of their safety. "It is this chilling effect on our people that kills democratic participation and healthy debate on issues of public concern."

"That is why we fear that the NTF-ELCAC's full-throttled red-tagging of us will prepare for a crackdown on cause-oriented groups and the opposition using the new Anti Terrorism Act of 2020," he added in Filipino and English.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate defense committee, is principal author at the Senate of the controversial anti-terror law, the implementing rules and regulations of which allow the government to publish a list of suspected terrorists online and in the national dailies.

He called for the probe following a recent slew of accusations hurled against public figures and a women's group by Lt.Gen. Antionio Parlade, spokesman for the NTF-ELCAC.

"Red-tagging is a threat to our personal safety, to our lives, to due process, to freedom of thought and expression, the right to association, and to our democratic way of life. Please do not allow the NTF-ELCAC and its parked assets to throw out any lies and baseless accusations that they cannot stand in the court or in a fair field," Casiño urged Lacson and the panel.

Citing rights groups, the former lawmaker said at least 328 activists and ordinary civilians have been killed in counter-insurgency operations. Among thse casualties, he said, are activists like Malayao, Randy Echanis, Alvarez and Porquia, human rights lawyers like Ben Ramos and Anthony Trinidad, and the 14 farmers in Canlaon City and nine farmers in Sagay City killed in joint PNP-AFP anti-crime operations

"Meanwhile, 2,596 have been illegally arrested and 973 arrested and detained, many on questionable grounds, with the arresting police or military unit routinely planting evidence to make it appear that they are armed combatants," he added. 

'Ka Eric' scrutinized

Casiño also slammed as baseless the allegations made by the NTF-ELCAC's star witness Jeffrey Celiz, alias "Ka Eric", against him, noting that Celiz and the task force "have failed to provide any document, any incident, or any piece of competent, admissible and credible evidence to prove their allegations."

Celiz on November 4 told the Senate said he was first recruited through what he claimed was a legal front of the CPP — the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) at West Visayas State University. “I was the regional chairman [of the CEGP] — though I know him also to be part of the CPP,” he said, referring to Casiño.

CEGP, founded in 1931, is an organization for campus journalists. 

Casiño acknowledged that he was he national president of the CEGP from 1991 to 1994 when Celiz was active in its Iloilo chapter but said this is no way connected him to the CPP.

"A lot has happened since our paths crossed. I remained an activist, became a congressman for nine years, and returned to the parliament of the streets. Mr. Celiz, if you believe his story, joined the NPA, surrendered to the government, was named by President Duterte as involved in illegal drugs, and is now an [National Intelligence Coordinating Agency] agent and star asset of NTF-ELCAC," he told the Senate Tuesday.

Since he was first publicized as the NTF-ELCAC's witness, Celiz's story has seen some revisions. He originally told radio DZRH that he was recruited in UP Diliman but switched narratives during a press conference at the National Press Club in Manila in late October.

A certain "Party list Rep. Jeffrey Celis" also appears in a 2016 list of individuals accused by President Rodrigo Duterte of being drug protectors. Celiz acknowledged his inclusion in the "narco list," but claimed it was due to a government "project is covered by confidentiality and security purpose."

Casiño said Tuesday that "it is important for us to note that in his testimony and media interviews, Mr. Celiz admitted that their accusations will not stand in court." He said that this is why the national task force is "going to the court of public opinion, including this Senate hearing."

 "In other words, Mr. Chair, this is nothing but trial by publicity with the Senate unfortunately serving as their biggest platform," he added.

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