Red-tagging as weapon in electoral campaign

One wouldn’t have been surprised, but definitely would have wished that President Duterte – basically in self-respect but much more so in respect for his high public office – shouldn’t have done it.

Without offering proof, in his televised public address last Monday, Duterte again accused the Makabayan Coalition of using the party-list system to infiltrate Congress through its five party-list election participants. These parties have all been duly vetted and certified by the Comelec in every national election since 2001 – when Bayan Muna topped the party-list voting that year, winning the maximum allowable three seats in the House of Representatives. Bayan Muna has maintained representation in the House until today.

“So you won’t forget, remember the KABAG,” Duterte said, using a pejorative acronym (kabag pertains to stomach discomfort) in reference to the five Makabayan parties: Kabataan, Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers and Gabriela Women’s Party. Accusing these organizations of supporting communist rebels, he urged voters: “Do not vote for them. Let us put an end to that.”

Duterte wasn’t even original in coining the acronym. PhilSTAR reported last Thursday that Duterte’s claim “echoed the narrative being pushed” by Lorraine Badoy, whose job title is Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary and a spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

That’s odd. As NTF-ELCAC chairperson, the President was merely echoing his subordinate’s narrative, not the other way around.

Badoy had coined the term “kabag,” alleging the Makabayan parties were “fronts” and “urban operatives” of the CPP-NPA. She had also posted on the NTF-ELCAC Facebook account and website that Vice President Leni Robredo was conspiring with the CPP-NPA after the Makabayan Coalition formally endorsed her presidential candidacy.

Last week several progressive groups, including Makabayan, filed three separate complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman, followed by another one last Wednesday – all charging Badoy with violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. Another complaint, for electioneering and violating the Omnibus Election Code, has been filed before the Comelec.

Assured of Duterte’s backing, Badoy has continued to act and speak impudently, and arrogantly carry on with her red-tagging and false claims. Her latest outrageous act: she interviewed, for almost three hours inside the National Bilibid Prisons, inmate retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr. The latter was convicted, in 2018, and sentenced to life imprisonment for the kidnapping, serious illegal detention and disappearance in 2016 of two former University of the Philippines students, Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.

During the interview, aired last Wednesday on SMNI, the television outfit of Duterte’s close friend Apollo Quiboloy, Badoy told Palparan: “The reason why we have invited you is, of course, to honor you, to vindicate you and to show the Filipino people the harm that the (CPP-NPA-NDF) has done to us as a people.” She claimed that Palparan had been convicted on “trumped-up” charges.

Asked to explain how Badoy was allowed to pull off such a malicious stunt, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra lamely told the media his office was investigating how and why the interview happened.

Reacting to Duterte’s claim of infiltration of Congress via the party-list system, the Comelec vowed to look into the matter. Commissioner George Garcia, however, pointed out that the Comelec could only act if a petition for disqualification or cancellation of any party-list registration had been filed. As of now, he explained, the party-list groups have been accredited and given “vested rights” to participate in the May 9 elections which, he emphasized, “we will have to respect.”

Last Wednesday, the Makabayan bloc described Duterte’s renewed verbal attack against them as “a desperate election squid tactic to create a wedge in the growing numbers of the political opposition that support the Leni Robredo-Kiko Pangilinan tandem, as well as to prevent the eventual reelection of progressive party-lists to Congress.”

“Clearly lacking in admissible and credible evidence that will stand in court,” said House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Duterte and his minions “now resort to guilt by mere association.” It’s a ploy also designed, he added, “to divert the attention of the people from the failings of the Duterte administration in the past six years, especially during this time of the pandemic.”

“In all these accusations, no credible evidence was ever presented against the Makabayan bloc, except for innuendos and hearsays coming from perjured witnesses,” Zarate asserted.

It’s an old story: Three of the parties now belonging to the Makabayan Coalition (formed in April 2009) – Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party – have already undergone the crucible of furious red-tagging and trumped-up charges under the administration of president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Following Arroyo’s declaration of a state of national emergency due to massive protest actions in early 2006, the six elected representatives of the three parties seated in the House were threatened with arrest and detention. They sought the protection of the House, which was granted with the sympathetic support of the Senate. The Justice Department, backed up by an Inter-Agency Legal Action Group, formally charged them in court with rebellion – yes, rebellion, or rising up in arms against the government – as members of the House of Representatives.

Dubbed by the media as the “Batasan 6,” the accused (I was one of them) asked the Supreme Court to throw out the case for lack of probable cause. Meantime, under House protection, they stayed within the premises of the Batasang Pambansa for 71 days and nights, and continued to perform their official duties and functions.

In June 2007, the Supreme Court ruled there was no evidence to back the case. It directed the lower court to dismiss the charges. More significantly, the SC admonished the Justice Department officials and state prosecutors against allowing themselves to be used for political ends. The admonition needs to be repeated today – forcefully, again and again.

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Published in Philippine Star
April 2, 2022

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