House Bill 9437, which seeks the imprisonment for up to six years and perpetual absolute disqualification to hold public office for those who will be found guilty of red-tagging.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Lawmakers in the lower house filed a counterpart measure seeking to criminalize public officials, employees or their agents for red-tagging.
Nine lawmakers filed on May 24 House Bill 9437, which seeks the imprisonment for up to six years and perpetual absolute disqualification to hold public office for those who will be found guilty of red-tagging.
Filed by members of the Makabayan bloc, Quezon City Congressman Jose Christopher Belmonte, Albay Congressman Edcel Lagman and La Union Congressman Pablo Ortega, the bill that red-tagging by public officials and their agents “brings about chilling effect and poses a great danger to the people’s Constitutional right to freedom of expression and the right to political belief without fear of prosecution.”
The lawmakers reiterated that individuals or groups critical of the government are being red-tagged and were being subjected to different types of harassment or worse being killed.
They cited the killings of peace consultant Randall Echanis and Randy Malayao, Jory Porquia of Bayan Muna-Iloilo City, human rights defender Zara Alvares and human rights lawyer Ben Ramos.
“Ultimately, the message is clearly to stifle dissent,” the lawmakers said.
Under the bill, forms of red-tagging covers statements, social media posts, announcements, declarations, signages, streamers, placards, public for a and other similar venues or media where individuals, entities, groups and/or organizations are publicly labeled, vilified, branded, named, accused or caricatured.
Why it should be criminalized
The lawmakers cited two reasons why red-tagging should be criminalized. First is because it is “committed through the use of public funds, and it has injurious and irreversible impact on the victims.”
They said there is stigma when an individual or group is being red-tagged. They would eventually be subjected to harassment, surveillance or worse enforced disappearance and killings.
“The victims live in constant fear for their lives, liberty and security. Adding insult to injury, even their families suffer the same. They deliberately singled out as the public is conditioned that they must have done something wrong to justify an extrajudicial punishment,” the bill read.
Progressive groups have long been seeking legal remedy to protect human rights defenders, lawyers and activists amid the intensified red-tagging against them. These groups assert that their members who were killed or detained were previously red-tagged by the state agents.
Progressive groups such as Karapatan, Gabriela and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines as well as the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers filed separate petitions for the writ of amparo and habeas data in the Supreme Court but all were denied by the Court of Appeals.
A similar measure has been proposed at the Senate filed by Minority Floor Leader Sen. Franklin Drilon.