Karapatan: Red-tagging is a threat, not simple freedom of expression

Karapatan: Red-tagging is a threat, not simple freedom of expression
In this 2020 file photo, activists troop to University of the Philippines Diliman to protest passage of the Ant-Terrorism Act.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Christopher Toledo

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:43 p.m.) — Rights alliance Karapatan on Wednesday disputed Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla's assertion before the UN Human Rights Committee that red-tagging — the practice of labeling activists, rights workers and journalists as communist rebels or as terrorists — is part of democracy, calling the claim based on "warped logic."

Karapatan issued the statement in response to Remulla likening the practice to "criticizing" groups that criticize government. He said that groups accused of links to the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army should be able to "take it".

READ: Manila court: Not all activists are part of underground movement

The rights group, which is among the organizations that government has red-tagged, stressed that "red-tagging, especially [by] State forces and their adjuncts has dire consequences on persons, families, organizations and communities — killings, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, torture, enforced disappearances and more."

"Feigning ignorance on these consequences and packaging these threats as mere exercise of freedom of expression are clear signals of a policy of tolerance for human rights violations and impunity," Karapatan also said.

Remulla told the international community that red-tagging has been made an issue "because it is the defense of the left to protect the left in the country."

READ: 'Being leftist is far from being a terrorist,' Justice secretary stresses

"It’s par for the course. If you can dish it out, you should be able to take it. That, for me, is probably the essence of democracy. Are we not allowed to criticize our critics too? Is it a one-way street?" he also said.

In a tweet on Wednesday morning, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes said "[r]ed-tagging undermines democracy and the rule of law because it relies on guilt by association, it hurls accusations without any due process, and it has deadly consequences for those targeted."

"There is no justifying this vile act," he also said.

Rights agencies like the Commission on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Office — which called red-tagging a "persistent and powerful threat to civil society and freedom of expression" — have warned against the practice since as early as 2019.

"People who disagree with government policies and criticize them including in international fora, should not be vilified as terrorist sympathizers," then UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in June 2020.

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

The CHR said in 2019 that "labeling groups before an objective judgment violates the constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and may have serious implications on the security and movement of individuals and groups involved."

Red-tagging is defined by Philippine jurisprudence as "the act of labeling, 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.'"

Remulla's predecessor, now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, agreed in June that the practice is dangerous.

"The [Department of Justice]’s position is very clear on that. If there is, let’s say, certain acts of red-tagged persons that can be said against the law. Then don’t just label them. File the necessary action against them if you have evidence," he said then. — Jonathan de Santos

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