Senate bill seeks to criminalize red-tagging
The human rights group Karapatan, along with Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and Kabataan party-list group, urged CHR chairman Chito Gascon to look into the government’s linking certain groups to the communist rebels.
Karapatan FB Page/File

Senate bill seeks to criminalize red-tagging

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - March 25, 2021 - 12:41pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:17 p.m.) —Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, wants to punish red-tagging state agents with up to ten years in prison and disqualification from public office.

Drilon filed Senate Bill No. 2121, or an Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Red-tagging, on Wednesday.

The bill defines red-tagging as the labeling, vilifying, branding, naming, accusing, harassing, persecuting, stereotyping, or caricaturing individuals, groups, or organizations as "state enemies, left-leaning, subversives, communists, or terrorists as part of a counter-insurgency or anti-terrorism strategy or program."

"Any state actor, such as a law enforcement agent, paramilitary, or military personnel," guilty of perpetrating the acts mentioned above "shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of ten (10) years and perpetual absolute disqualification to hold public office."

Why does this matter?

The debate over the criminalization of red-tagging has loomed large in recent months as the country experienced what Drilon, in his explanatory note for the bill, detailed as "an unprecedented rapid escalation of...the State’s malicious labeling and stereotyping of individuals or groups as communists or terrorists."

He cited Zara Alvarez, a rights worker whose name was included in the Department of Justice's terror list before she was fatally shot by unidentified gunmen on Aug. 17, 2020.

Drilon also recalled the case of Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan, the only physician in Guihulngan City, who was shot by an unidentified assailant on Dec. 15, 2020, along with her husband, after she figured on a list of 15 people accused of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

"Members of the legal profession were not spared from this systemic and calculated vilification as enemies of the State," he added, citing the recent killings, attacks and red-tagging of human rights lawyers and judges.

READ: FLAG: 61 lawyers slain in Duterte term — higher than killings from Marcos to Aquino admins | 'Authorities have lost control of peace and order': Senators seek probe on vigilante killings in 2020

Flagging the "institutionalization and normalization of human rights violations," Drilon said his proposed measure seeks to "fix the legal gaps, address impunity and institutionalize a system of accountability," as well as remind the government of its primary duty under the Constitution to "serve and protect."

Karapatan, NUJP throw support behind bill

Rights group Karapatan and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, whose members have been red-tagged by state agents, both welcomed the filing of the bill. 

"Red-tagging should have no place in a democratic society, and we believe that such measure to penalize it is especially urgent now amid the government's massive red-tagging campaign targeting human rights defenders, civil society organizations, political activists and dissenters, and government critics," Karapatan said. 

NUJP, in a separate statement, noted, that red-tagging "has often led to harassment and violence against its targets and NUJP welcomes moves that will protect journalists from these threats and hold those making them to account."

Karapatan also flagged the continued "glaring impunity for State forces who commit, perpetuate, and peddle such dangerous lies and deadly rhetoric," citing the re-appointment of two military generals who were sacked for publishing a false list of alleged communist rebels who the military claimed were killed or captured.

The group further proposed that the measure be amended to include "provisions for courts to issue automatic protection orders for individuals who are red-tagged." 

In addition to passing Drilon's bill, Karapatan urged the Senate "to pass the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill to comprehensively address and combat red-tagging."

The House of Representatives in 2019 passed House Bill No. 9199 on the third and final reading. The Senate version of the measure, however, is languishing at the committee level. 

NUJP also reiterated its opposition to the contentious Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 "which makes terror tagging even more dangerous, and has dire implications on the performance of [reporters'] duty."

What about the rest of the Senate?

A committee report from the Senate defense panel, dated Feb. 22, 2021, concluded that legal remedies "are sufficient and available for personalities or groups that have been the subject of the so called 'red-tagging.'"

The report also said "that criminalizing 'red-tagging' is no longer necessary" due to the availability of legal remedies.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros was the only member of the committee to express dissent to some of the contents of the report.  

But in filing his bill, Drilon asserted that "there are no sufficient and available legal remedies for victims of red-tagging."

"Victims are left without proper recourse against their perpetrators and are forced to file seemingly-appropriate-but-not-quite cases, like libel and grave threats," he said. "Libel, or grave threats, is not appropriate where a state agent vilifies a person as an enemy of the state thereby impinging on the rights of that individual."

On Wednesday, the Senate adopted a resolution filed by Drilon condemning the brazen attacks on lawyers and judges in the country. Drilon said his bill if enacted into law, would also put a stop to such incidents.

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