Boying Remulla

Remulla mulls amnesty for activists, not warm on law vs red-tagging

Lian Buan

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Remulla mulls amnesty for activists, not warm on law vs red-tagging

On the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Massacre, unionists belonging to the Kilusang Mayo Uno march to the DOJ office in Manila to demand justice for the 9 killed and 6 arrested by the police and military in simultaneous raids in Laguna, Rizal and Batangas, on March 7, 2022. Rappler

Incoming Justice Secretary Boying Remulla also says he will continue the AO 35 panel that focuses on cases involving the killings of activists

MANILA, Philippines –  Incoming justice secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said he will study a possible amnesty grant for activists in jail or in hiding due to various charges, but was not so warm on backing a proposed law that would criminalize red-tagging.

During the election campaign, Remulla was criticized for red-tagging supporters of Vice President Leni Robredo, though the Cavite lawmaker had denied that was what he did. Red-tagging is the act of linking people to armed communist rebels, but there is no law against it.

“I always think that I would like to recommend an amnesty of sorts, that would put the left and right back to the groove, into the normal life, so they can resume their lives as normal filipinos,” Remulla said in a Rappler Talk interview on Tuesday, May 31.

Remulla mulls amnesty for activists, not warm on law vs red-tagging

When asked about the potential conditions for the amnesty grant, Remulla said this will be subject to study.

“I don’t know, we have to study that, but that is an idea that has come to me and it’s very important, it’s part of the unity statement of the President, left and right, everybody who’s now in court, being charged, hiding, all can be covered by amnesty,” Remulla said.

‘Insurmountable obstacle’

Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) which had served as counsel for the charged activists and as legal consultants for the peace talks, said any openness is welcome but that “the devil is in the details.”

“Any openness to amnesty, in principle, is welcome, but the devil is in the details of course. The question is, what alleged acts are covered, what is the scope, what is the timeline, what is the procedure,” Olalia told Rappler in a phone interview on Wednesday, June 1.

Olalia said that there’s already a draft unconditional and omnibus amnesty that was raised during the peace talks with communist rebels. Peace talks with the National Democratic Front, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, under President Rodrigo Duterte ended in November 2017 after a brief honeymoon period.

An ideal amnesty, at least according to that draft, would cover all political prisoners and all their crimes and alleged charges, including common crimes. This would be tricky, and would again test the political offense doctrine.

One example is former communist leader Rodolfo Salas who already struck an agreement with the government to be cleared of a rebellion case, but was arrested in 2020 over an old murder case. The discussion in the Supreme Court was: Does the political offense doctrine mean the agreement for rebellion also covers murder since the latter was allegedly committed in furtherance of the political cause?

Olalia also took note that even with Remulla’s openness to grant amnesty, the incoming justice chief’s view on red-tagging remained the same.

“It seems incompatible but I think with his openness, we can pursue amnesty without viewing his stance on red-tagging as [an] insurmountable obstacle,” said Olalia, adding that they hope Remulla “doesn’t dangle amnesty.”

When Rappler asked if the condition to the amnesty grant would be to stop expressing dissent, Remulla said: “Hindi naman (Not really). There’s nothing criminal about dissent, so what’s the point?”

Not warm on law vs red tagging

Remulla’s predecessor, outgoing Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, backed the passage of a law that would criminalize red-tagging.

Asked about the proposed law, Remulla said: “I don’t know, I have to study that, I cannot commit to that, nor will I oppose it immediately. I will have to study the provisions of that law, and I will not call it red-tagging.”

“Red-tagging favors one party, it goes against [the] Philippine government, I will not allow that,” said Remulla.

The Duterte government launched a full-scale crackdown on activists, rearresting those freed during the peace talks, and arresting dozens on the powers of search warrants which were later voided by courts. There were red-tagged activists who had been killed.

Reminded of the seven activists killed in the Bloody Sunday massacre in Calabarzon in 2021 while state agents were executing search warrants, Remulla said: “Hindi siya dapat pinatay, dapat dinala siya sa korte, ‘yun ang akin eh. ‘Yun ang maling-maling style. If you have the evidence, present them in court. ‘Wag natin isho-shortcut. I don’t believe in that.”

(They shouldn’t have been killed, they should have been taken to court, that’s what I think. That’s a very wrong style. If you have evidence, present them in court. Let’s not do shortcuts. I don’t believe in that.)

The DOJ under Guevarra filed murder charges against the state agents involved in the killing of one of the Bloody Sunday victims, Cavite labor leader Manny Asuncion. Others are pending in the Administrative Order 35 panel, a special committee focused on extrajudicial killings and other politically-motivated harassments. (READ: ‘Deliberate intent to kill’: 17 cops face murder for 2 Bloody Sunday killings)

Remulla said he would continue the AO 35 panel. “Tuloy, eh siyempre kailangan ‘yung nasimulan. Ang tawag diyan institutional continuity,” said Remulla.

(Continue, of course, because it was already started. That’s called institutional continuity.)

Remulla mulls amnesty for activists, not warm on law vs red-tagging

Read the other stories from this interview: 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.