DOJ lied to UN expert on red-tagging—Karapatan, NUJP

A human rights organization and a media group called claims by the Department of Justice (DOJ)  that red-tagging is not official government policy is, simply, lying.

“Simply doublespeak,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in reaction to DOJ’s reply to United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan’s question if red-tagging is a policy of the Philippine government.

“We are aghast when the DOJ said that it has sufficient mechanisms to address red-tagging. What are they talking about? Either these are nowhere to be found, or if these mechanisms indeed exist, are rendered useless for victims of rights violations,” Palabay said.

Palabay pointed out that the Office of the Ombudsman found former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTFELCAC) spokespersons retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and former undersecretary Lorraine Badoy guilty of red-tagging activists and organizations.

In a decision signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires last August 9, Parlade and Badoy were reprimanded after finding merit in the complaint filed by the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

Other complaints filed as early as 2020 by Karapatan, alternative media organizations, youth leaders, health workers, community pantry organizers, journalists, and civil libertarians remain pending at the Ombudsman, proof that red-tagging is practiced widely by government agencies, Palabay said.

Palabay also recalled that Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told the UN Human Rights Committee in November 2022 that “red-tagging is a part of democracy.”

“The DOJ secretary himself attempted to justify red-tagging before the UN HR Committee. Using his warped logic, Remulla also said in interviews that red-tagging is truth-telling, and that it is their right to ‘criticize’ those who criticize them,” Palabay added.

DOJ’s barefaced denial

In a press release following its meeting with Khan last Wednesday, the DOJ said it told the UN expert red-tagging is not an official policy of the government.

“We were also explaining the many cases that show that we have sufficient mechanisms to address this matter of red-tagging. There is an ongoing effort, proactive effort on the part of the DOJ where we have been engaging civil society organizations,” Justice Undersecretary Jessie Andres also told Khan.

Already criticized in 2007 by UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Phillip Alston, red-tagging is described as the malicious act of branding individuals or organizations as supporters or members of terrorist or communist groups simply for being critical of government policies.

Rights groups said victims of red-tagging are being set up for arrests, trumped-up charges or assassination.

While the UN is here

In a separate statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said government’s denial of a red-tagging policy is meaningless as it is being done even while a UN expert is in the country conducting her investigations on the allegations.

“We condemn the red-tagging on Facebook of NUJP director Reynard Magtoto and Gabriela local leader Jen Nagrampa, who have been accused by anonymously-run page Green Spark of being “kampon” or underlings of the CPP-NPA-NDF,” NUJP said.

Green Spark alleged on Thursday that along with Magtoto and Nagrampa, alternative news outfits Bulatlat and Baretang Bikolnon as well as women’s group Gabriela are front organizations of underground Communist organizations.

“We believe this latest post is an attempt at retaliation for Magtoto’s December 2023 report on fake New People’s Army surrenderees and on how some — activists and citizens — were made to sign declarations of surrender under false pretenses of government aid distribution or under duress,” NUJP said.

Magtoto was subjected to surveillance while working on a report on fake surrenderees in Bicol and was also called to a meeting with the military on his activities with NUJP, which they called a “sectoral front organization, the group reported.

Under the Marcos Jr. administration, NUJP said it recorded 20 incidents of red-tagging against journalists and media outlets and organizations.

“Like Magtoto, the majority of those red-tagged published stories critical of the government, or that veered away from the official narratives,” NUJP said.

Karapatan and the NUJP were among dozens of civil society organizations that met with Khan on her first day of investigations last Tuesday.

“Malicious labeling by government agencies, officials and their affiliates intrudes on our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of association, of the press, and of expression. The continuous red-tagging puts the security of journalists at risk, and should not be taken lightly, the NUJP said.

“We challenge the Marcos Jr. administration to disband the NTFELCAC to prove that red-tagging is not a policy, the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)