Supreme Court of the Philippines

Not yet justice, but SC ruling gives activists fighting chance vs red-tagging

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Not yet justice, but SC ruling gives activists fighting chance vs red-tagging

Nico Villarete/ Angie de Silva/ Rappler

Following the SC decision, groups also urge the legislature to pass laws that will criminalize the act of linking individuals to communist groups without factual basis

As an activist, Siegfred Deduro is used to going out on the streets, fighting for other people’s rights. But when former president Rodrigo Duterte took over the reins of Malacañang, activists like him had to fight for their life, liberty, and security because of red-tagging.

Years after his election, Duterte signed Executive Order 70 that intensified red-tagging and targeted activists like Deduro. Red-tagging is the act, usually committed by the government and its law enforcers, that links individuals to rebel groups like the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) without factual basis.

These threats cascaded to other parts of the country, including Deduro’s home turf, Visayas.

During a meeting of the Iloilo Provincial Peace and Order Council on June 19, 2020, Deduro was red-tagged; he was accused of being part of the CPP-NPA hierarchy. Prior to that, both in 2017 and 2019, several banners were posted in the Visayas red-tagging Deduro and other activists. The banners called Deduro and his colleagues “criminals, terrorists, and members of the CPP-NPA-NDFP.”

Among those red-tagged in the posters were Iloilo-based Jory Porquia, Bacolod activist Zara Alvarez, and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) member Benjamin Ramos. Porquia, Alvarez, Ramos met terrible fates; they were shot and killed by unidentified assailants.

For his protection, Deduro filed a petition for a writ of amparo with the Regional Trial Court (RTC). The writ is a legal remedy, usually a protection order in the form of a restraining order. However, the RTC dismissed the activist’s petition and said it found Deduro’s “allegations of red-tagging baseless, unsupported by evidence, and insufficient for the grant of the extraordinary writ.”

This pushed Deduro to file his petition with the Supreme Court (SC) in 2020. Four years later, the High Court sided with Deduro through a decision penned by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda and granted the activist the writ.

“This [decision] clearly refutes the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC) assertion that their rampage of red-tagging of activists is a benign exercise of ‘truth- tagging,'” Deduro said.

“I hope that this landmark SC ruling will benefit thousands of other activists and political dissenters, like me, who are victims of political persecution and red-tagging. Having said that, I still fear for my life, liberty, and security amid the continuing impunity in extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and illegal arrests and detention on trumped-up charges in our country,” he added.

Fighting chance

The SC ruling in the Deduro case is a landmark decision because the High Court finally ruled that red-tagging is a threat used to “discourage subversive activities.” The High Court also mentioned that red-tagging is a likely “precursor to abduction or extrajudicial killing,” and being associated communists makes a person a “target of vigilantes, paramilitary groups, or even state agents.”

The lack of a definition of red-tagging had been advantageous to government officials and influencers because when a person challenges their acts, these officials can deny red-tagging since there was no legal framework that defined it. By acknowledging the dangers of red-tagging and putting it in a decision, the SC gives red-tagged individuals a fighting chance against those who attack them.

NUPL president Ephraim Cortez said in a Rappler Talk interview the SC’s categorical pronouncement that red-tagging is a threat to life, liberty, and security can be used as basis in filing criminal complaints. Cortez said red-tagged individuals can now file complaints for grave threats against those who linked them to communist groups, even if there is no direct legislation that criminalizes the act.

Before the SC decision, groups like the NUPL had found a way to legally counter red-tagging and hold their red-taggers accountable. Groups filed administrative and civil complaints against the likes of former NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lorraine Badoy: administrative, to hold her accountable as a government official back then; and civil, to ask for compensation against the damage she caused to the people she attacked.

The NUPL was successful in its administrative case against Badoy. The Ombudsman ruled in the group’s favor and reprimanded the former anti-insurgency spokesperson in 2023. With regard to civil, there are pending complaints against Badoy filed by journalist Atom Araullo, his mother and former Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) chairperson Carol Araullo, and current BAYAN chairperson Teddy Casiño.

Cortez said the SC ruling will strengthen the pending red-tagging complaints. The complainants may also file another criminal complaint on top of their civil complaints.

Not yet justice, but SC ruling gives activists fighting chance vs red-tagging
Law needs to follow

The legislature – the House of Representatives and the Senate – should take the cue from the judiciary.

Since it has the power to propose laws, the lower and upper chambers can pass bills that will directly punish red-tagging. Cortez explained that the SC ruling, although strongly worded and clear, did not criminalize the act of linking individuals to communist groups.

“With the new categorical pronouncement, and I think it’s not just a categorical statement, but they made an exhaustive explanation and defined the different elements of red-tagging, the fear and its effects. I think the legislative should follow suit to criminalize red-tagging because there will be more red-tagging,” Cortez said.

Human rights lawyer and Free Legal Assistance Group chairperson Chel Diokno said the SC ruling serves as a stern warning for state forces, like the police and military, not to red-tag. Diokno added that the Civil Service Commission and all government offices “should direct their officials and employees to desist from red-tagging and abide by the rule of law.”

Following the SC ruling, the human rights sector also has a challenge for the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“The Supreme Court ruling affirms that red-tagging is a dangerous form of harassment and violates the rights of individuals targeted. The Marcos administration should abandon red-tagging and ensure its counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism programs are consistent with international human rights law,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde said.

Too early to call justice

For activists, the fight to exist and exercise their basic rights has been a hard-fought battle. Activists have had a losing streak with the SC, an institution expected to protect citizens from the weaponizing of laws.

In the Zarate vs Aquino case in 2015, the SC denied activists the privileges of the writs of amparo and habeas data (the latter compels the government to destroy information that could cause harm). The only good part in the case was Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen’s dissenting opinion, which gave the closest definition of red-tagging.

Activists were also not entirely victorious in challenging the anti-terror law, as the SC upheld most of the law’s content, including designation as terrorists through an arbitrary process of the executive anti-terror council.

“It was a surprise. If [you’ve] noticed, we have several setbacks,” Cortez said, commenting on how they initially reacted to the SC decision.

Before the favorable decision on red-tagging, the SC had issued decisions that directly contradicted Duterte. The SC last April overturned a Duterte policy when it ruled that persons convicted of heinous crimes are still entitled to Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA). The GCTA law allows convicted persons to have their sentences reduced on the basis of good conduct.

Aside from this, the SC also upheld the validity of former senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s amnesty, which was arbitrarily revoked by Duterte when he was still the chief executive.

Must Read

4 years in the making: Trillanes scores first major SC win vs Duterte

4 years in the making: Trillanes scores first major SC win vs Duterte

Activists also secured victories at the High Court. Although too late because her daughter was already dead, the SC sided with activist Reina Mae Nasino and her companions last month, and upheld the voiding of search warrants used for their arrest in 2020. The High Court also granted temporary protection to embattled environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, who face threats after exposing the military.

“We really don’t know the delays, but we’re happy with the outcome. We’re hoping that the Supreme Court, these decisions, set a precedence insofar as human rights is concerned, insofar as cases where there are political callers, this might be an indication of the Supreme Court asserting its independence,” Cortez said.

For red-tagged activists, the SC ruling is already a big win for them since it gives them a better chance in fighting vilification. But it is too early to call this victory as justice because the killers of red-tagged activists, like Porquia, Alvarez, and Ramos, have yet to be held accountable.

“It’s too early in the sense that there is no actual justice, in the sense that their killers have not yet been answered,” Cortez said.

“The Supreme Court [confirmed] what they have been saying all along, what Ben Ramos was saying, what Zara Alvarez was saying, that by red-tagging us, there are consequences in our lives, and by confirming that red-tagging is a threat to life, liberty, and security, to a certain extent, I think, there is a bit of joy in their lives now, [for] Zara, [Jory], and Atty. Ben.” –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.