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Duterte's tirades push groups to rise in defense of Bayan Muna Rep Zarate

President Rodrigo Duterte's words singling out Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate in a red-tagging speech pushed groups to issue statements of support for the progressive lawmaker as if to form a protective barrier.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), chaired by human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, was the latest to stand in defense of Zarate, saying that the red-tagging against the lawmaker "is baseless and malicious."

"Such actions by the highest official of the land only subvert and hurt our already weak justice system," said FLAG in a statement Thursday, December 10.

Duterte singled out Zarate in an insult-laden speech on November 30 when the president was supposed to be announcing quarantine adjustments for December.

Duterte called progressive groups Makabayan, Bayan and Gabriela communists in "a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal fronts that you have organized headed by the National Democratic Front."

Duterte specifically mentioned Zarate, who is a fellow lawyer from Davao.

"Alam mo sa totoo Zarate 'pag nakikita kita sa TV, para akong nakakita ng tae ng iro, para akong nakakita ng tae ng aso. Sa totoo lang. Bantay ka sa akin," said Duterte.

(You know Zarate if I see you on TV it's like I see dog shit, to tell you honestly. I'm watching you.)

'Marching order'

Edre Olalia, president of the progressive National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), said that Duterte's words could be taken as a marching order.

"In the present context and circumstances where our democratic institutions are not as mature, professional, reasonable and accountable as they should be, yes, this can be seen as a 'marching order' to go guns ablazing against the most vocal, the most credible, the most consistent and the most unflinching of critics," Olalia told Rappler.

The Duterte government, particularly the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), has been on a red-tagging spree against activists, nuns, and even celebrities with the flimsiest link to progressive groups.

"These surgical attacks on (Zarate) is meant to send the message that no one is insulated – no matter if you broke bread before – from excursions against basic decency, respect and civility by those in temporal power," said Olalia.

Olalia was referring to Zarate's "somehow close" relations to Duterte when the president was still mayor of Davao City and the lawmaker was a journalist and then a lawyer there.

"At a time when even government officials, judges, lawyers and human rights advocates are being killed with impunity under Duterte's rule, such red-tagging is irresponsible and dangerous – especially since such allegations are often the prelude to human rights violations, including harassment, unlawful arrest, torture, and threats to life," said FLAG.

Zarate is a member of FLAG. 

The hashtag #StandWithRepZarate was also picked up on Twitter, with his allies pointing out his work in Congress including the bills he's authored.

The Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) said that "Duterte should apologize to Zarate who he not only red-tagged but publicly insulted and threatened in his message." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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