Now red-tagged groups fight back via the courts

In early March, they instantly came out with vigorous denials, condemning the ramped-up red-tagging campaign waged against them, here and in Europe, by the Duterte government.

To a considerable degree, the broad-ranged ripostes have blunted the vilification drive against Karapatan and other human rights defenders, militant people’s organizations and alliances, and Left-leaning candidates in the May 13 midterm elections.

Long-time European partners and funders of the targeted organizations have themselves protested the red-tagging, vouching for their integrity and calling on the Duterte government and its security forces to respect and protect human rights defenders.

The latest scheme to thwart further participation by disadvantaged sectors in the country’s political processes was launched last December by President Duterte when he formed a National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF) with himself as chairman.

Karapatan, one of those accused of being a communist front, has filed complaints of threat, harassment and intimidation at three United Nations offices in Switzerland as well as at the Commission on Human Rights and the GRP-NDFP Joint Monitoring Committee overseeing the CARHRIHL implementation.

Also branded “red,” the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) has sought judicial protection from the Supreme Court while the Makabayan Coalition has called for quasi-judicial adjudication by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

On April 15, the NUPL, represented by the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), petitioned the Supreme Court to apply in behalf of its officers and members the writs of amparo and of habeas data. On the amparo writ, the petitioners asked the SC to issue a Temporary Protection Order to prevent any act that may violate their right to life, liberty and security, in light of the AFP’s tagging the NUPL as a ”communist front”.

As regards habeas data, the NUPL urged the high tribunal to compel the government to “produce and, if necessary, to update and rectify, or to suppress and destroy, data, information and files in their possession, under their control or contained in their data base” relating to or concerning the petitioners, who have all been involved in actively defending victims of human rights violations.

The petition cites these glaring facts: under the Duterte administration, from July 1, 2016 to January 2, 2019, 55 lawyers have been attacked or threatened for practicing their profession; worse, 36 have been killed yet no case has been filed against any of the killers.

“Very few lawyers have taken up the cause of the marginalized and underprivileged. And those who have chosen to do so have become targets themselves,” the NUPL stressed. It pleaded with the high tribunal to “stand by your lawyers” (alluding to their status as officers of the court) and act to stop the “vilification, harassment and threats to the life, security and liberty” to which the latter are being subjected.

Respondents in the petition are: President Duterte as commander-in-chief of all armed forces, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., ISAFP chief Maj. Gen. Erwin Bernard Neri, Brig. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, deputy commander for intelligence, and Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade, deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations.

For its part, the Makabayan Coalition, in a complaint filed with the Comelec on April 17, accuses military officials of red-tagging and electioneering by campaigning against its five partylist groups accredited to participate in the May 13 elections: Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela Women’s Party, ACT Teachers, and Kabataan Partylist.

By such actions, Makabayan avers, the military officials have violated the 1987 Constitution, which prohibits the state armed forces from engaging in partisan political activity.

Cited as evidence is a post, with graphics, on the official Facebook page of the AFP’s Civil Relations Service, titled “Junk CPP-NPA-NDF House Fronts.” Through such a malicious post, it points out, the AFP is urging the public not to vote for any of the Makabayan partylists and its senatorial candidate, Neri Colmenares, “on the false basis that these candidates are ‘terrorists’ and ‘legal fronts of the CPP-NPA’.”

By such labelling of the Makabayan partylists, it adds, “the respondents endanger the lives and safety of our officials and members, campaign personnel, and the sectors we represent by painting the complainants and anyone affiliated with them as valid targets of the police and the military in the government’s counterinsurgency activities.”

Respondents in the complaint are: Defense Secretary Lorenzana, AFP chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., AFP-CRS chief Maj. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin, and “any employee under their orders who are responsible for their acts.”

Also, on April 24, the Makabayan bloc filed House Resolution 2545, expressing the sense of the House of Representatives to strongly condemn the “cold-blooded assassination“of Escalante City Councilor Bernardino ‘Toto’ Patigas Jr.

A lifelong activist, Patigas had devoted his life to assisting and defending farmers and farm workers. He survived the Marcos dictatorship’s infamous Escalante Massacre in 1985, and was a member of Bayan Muna partylist and its city coordinator since 2010. Before his murder, he had received death threats, was subjected to trumped-up charges, and red-tagged along with NUPL-Negros officer Benjamin Ramos (who was shot dead in Kabankalan last November) and 60 others in a poster circulated in Negros Island by suspected state agents.

“The murder of Councilor Patigas Jr. is apparently just a part of an active, systematic and lethal campaign against progressive candidates and their supporters in the months leading to the May 13 elections,” HR 2545 says. “There is a visible nationwide vilification campaign directed against members and candidates of the Makabayan Koalisyon ng Mamamayan bloc,” it adds, referring to defamatory posters and banners that have sprouted in Metro Manila and in the provinces, and to Makabayan’s campaign posters that are being defaced with anti communist propaganda.

As I write this, a sense of déjà vu seized me. My thoughts flew back to April 2007: the Supreme Court granted me bail (then a Bayan Muna congressman) on the spurious “multiple murder” charge that the Arroyo government had filed against me and several others. A ludicrous charge of rebellion had also been filed against us, the five partylist representatives dubbed by media as the “Batasan 6”; in June that year the SC threw out the rebellion charge, reprimanding the justice secretary and state prosecutors for allowing themselves to be used for a political purpose.

However, the cost in lives to Bayan Muna was huge: from April 15, 2001 to January 30, 2006, more than 80 of its leaders, members, and campaigners were slain by suspected state agents.

Our uphill fight against those killings and false charges probably enabled Bayan Muna to remain among the top winners in the Pulse Asia and SWS surveys of partylist candidates in the May 2007 midterm elections. The poll returns confirmed the survey results: For the third time, that year, Bayan Muna won three seats in the House, and moreover, our four partylist groups (which became the Makabayan bloc later) won eight seats all together.

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Published in Philippine Star
April 27, 2019

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