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MANILA, Philippines – Menardo Guevarra, President Rodrigo Duterte’s outgoing justice secretary, on Wednesday, June 15, denounced red-tagging and called it dangerous.
“What’s the point of labeling people, walang namang mangyayari kung you just label people. Kung meron kang ebidensiya against them then follow the necessary legal action against them. Pero kung wala ka namang ebidensiya to support anything except to suspect na ito ay fronts ng, let’s say communist terrorist groups, ay huwag ka na lang magsalita dahil you’re endangering certain people,” Guevarra said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum on Wednesday.
(What’s the point of labeling people, nothing will happen if you just label people. If you have evidence against them, then follow the necessary legal action against them. But if you don’t have evidence to support anything, except to suspect that they are fronts of communist terrorist groups, then don’t say anything because you are just endangering certain people.)
Red-tagging, or the act of labeling people as armed communist rebels, had been rampant under the Duterte administration through the notorious National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Activists who were arrested, jailed, charged, and killed in Duterte’s crackdown were all red-tagged.
Guevarra as justice secretary sits as member of the NTF-ELCAC, but he said on Wednesday he doesn’t believe that it’s official task force policy to red-tag.
“I don’t think that, that is a policy of the NTF-ELCAC. Meron lang certain persons associated with the NTF-ELCAC who might have been vocal about their impressions about certain groups kaya nga sinasabi na these people are red-tagging certain groups,” said Guevarra.
(There are just certain persons associated with the NTF-ELCAC who might have been vocal about their impressions about certain groups that’s why they say these people are red-tagging certain groups.)
Guevarra said the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been “very clear” about its position on anti-insurgency policy, which is to “stop labeling them and do whatever is necessary to prosecute them.”
Guevarra said they communicated this position to the officials of the NTF-ELCAC, but “as to how they reacted to that position of the DOJ, I wouldn’t really know if they heeded it or they ignored it.”
Guevarra took the DOJ out of the obligation to lawyer for NTF-ELCAC’s cases, which was then passed on to the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). This is Guevarra’s strongest statement yet against red-tagging.
Previously, Guevarra said he supports the passage of a law that would make red-tagging a crime. Red-tagged groups have resorted to unique suits to hold their taggers accountable, like the notorious press undersecretary Lorraine Badoy. Badoy had red-tagged even journalists during her stint.
“Kung wala ka namang sufficient evidence baka mamaya ma-target naman ‘yung mga taong ‘yun na who are just vocal about their own political views, at baka ma-endanger naman ‘yung mga tao na ‘yun,” said Guevarra.
(If you don’t have sufficient evidence, it’s possible those persons will be targeted just for being vocal about their own political views, and maybe those persons will be endangered.)
Incoming justice secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla still maintains he does not red-tag when he links people to the armed communist group, claiming it is “unmasking.” Remulla previously told Rappler he is open to studying amnesty for activists.
Progressive groups fear that the future of the charges against activists, as well as the counter-charges against the state agents who killed activists, is bleak under Remulla.
The DOJ heads a panel that focuses on solving cases of, and preventing, politically-motivated killings or harassments.