House bill seeks penalties for government officials who red tag

House bill seeks penalties for government officials who red tag
In this Oct. 27, 2020 photo, members of national women's alliance Gabriela stage a protest rally at the Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City denouncing red-tagging and to junk the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The Makabayan bloc and three other lawmakers on Tuesday pushed for penalties for red-tagging — the act of labeling dissenters and critics as rebels and enemies of the state — a practice that they said is done with the use of public funds and that has an "irreversible impact on its victims."

The Makabayan bloc, joined by Reps. Edcel Lagman (Albay), Jose Christopher Belmonte (Quezon City) and Pablo Ortega (La Union), filed House Bill 9437 or the proposed "Anti-Red Tagging Act of 2021," News5 reported.

The Philippine government and its anti-communist task force often accuse activists and human rights defenders of links to communist rebels, claiming evidence from intelligence reports, supposed testimony from alleged former rebels as an old video of communist party founder Jose Maria Sison where he supposedly lists "communist front groups". 

Sison disputes the content and context of the video, which he said was spliced.

RELATED: Labeling dissent as rebellion 'institutionalized, normalized' in Philippines — UN report

In their explanatory note, the lawmakers stressed that red-tagging “has become a very dangerous action or conduct by public officials and their agents,” and brings about a chilling effect on people. "Chilling effect" refers to the discouragement and deterrence of expressing dissent and criticism because of concerns over reprisals or sanctions.

The practice opens red-tagged individuals or groups to harassment, surveillance, enforced disappearance and killings, they added.

"Red-tagging should be criminalized for two simple reasons: it is committed through the use of public funds, and it has an injurious and irreversible impact on the victims," the explanatory note further read.

Bill defines red-tagging

The proposed bill defines red-tagging as the "act of publicly labeling, vilifying, branding, naming, accusing or caricaturing individuals, groups or organizations of being state enemies, subversives, armed rebels, communists or terrorists, or fronts thereof, thereby implying or insinuating involvement or engagement in armed rebellion, acts of terrorism or any wrong doing or criminal acts."

Red-tagging under the proposed measure is committed by a public official or employee with the use of their public position or public funds.

It can be done through statements, social media posts, announcements, declarations, signage, streamers, placards, public fora where groups or individuals are "publicly labeled, vilified, branded, named, accused or caricatured."

Proposed penalties

The lawmakers proposed a punishment of prision correctional or up to six years of imprisonment to public officials and their agents who commit red-tagging.

If the red-tagged individual is injured by reason of the vilification, they proposed a punishment one degree higher than those in accordance with Art. 262 or Art. 265 (Physical injuries) of the Revised Penal Code and a fine not exceeding P6,000 with damages. The said provisions imposes punishment of up to 12 years in prison.

In cases where the red-tagged person dies, the lawmakers said the accountable public official shall be punished in accordance with Art. 248 (Murder) of the Revised Penal Code, which imposes imprisonment of up to 20 years.

Under the bill, the public officer found guilty will also face a penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification from public office.

A similar bill was filed at the Senate in March by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who said there has been "an unprecedented rapid escalation of...the State’s malicious labeling and stereotyping of individuals or groups as communists or terrorists" in recent months.

Rights group Karapatan and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, groups whose members have been red-tagged by state agents, have indicated support for the bill.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra last April said the spate of government officials' red-tagging has become “disturbing” as he too backed legislation to criminalize the practice of linking personalities to communist groups.

"Right now, the acts considered or deemed red-tagging are not punishable exactly for what it is so… the best that could be done would be to file complaints which are somehow related but not directly fitting to the act being complained of," he said then. — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from News5/Marianne Enriquez



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