Karapatan slams Tolentino’s ‘witch-hunt proposal,’ lauds Legarda’s peace call

A senator’s proposal to require government personnel to disclose relatives allegedly connected with criminal or so-called terrorist groups will only result in crackdowns on public officials, employees and their kin, a human right group said.

Reacting to Senator Francis Tolentino’s privilege speech on Tuesday, rights group Karapatan said that the legislator’s proposal will open the floodgates for possible violations on the right to due process, freedom of thought or opinion, privacy and threats to life and security and liberty of government workers and their families.

“What Sen. Tolentino is suggesting is a crackdown on officials and employees in the public sector and their relatives, based on the much-questioned, vague and arbitrary definition of terrorism under our laws,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

In his speech, Tolentino proposed amendments to the filing of Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) by public officials and employees to include relatives who may be involved in criminal and underground activities.

“I think it is right that when one enters the government to perhaps declare that you have a relative who is a member of a terrorist organization or criminal syndicate up to the fourth degree of consanguinity,” Tolentino said.

The senator’s proposal came after higher education commissioner Prospero de Vera III’s admission that an elder sister is a member of an underground revolutionary organization.

Poet Adora Faye de Vera was arrested in Quezon City last August 24. Her supporters however have only described her as a martial law survivor who suffered torture and rape in the hands of government soldiers.

Karapatan said Tolentino’s proposal is way off mark while the Senate was deliberating on government efficiency in the midst of an economic crisis.

The group said “the senator’s proposal of a witch-hunt and pointless red-tagging in the public sector workforce is a huge disservice to the public.”

“Isn’t it more important to check government officials and agencies that engage in influence peddling, graft and corruption for self-serving interests rather than make proposals on irrelevant issues?” Palabay asked.

Group lauds Legarda

Meanwhile, Karapatan lauded Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda’s reply to Tolentino, pointing out that having political beliefs different from the status quo does not make one a subversive or a terrorist.

“Apart from her assertion of the fact that the anti-subversion law has been repealed, what can be gleaned from Sen. Legarda’s comments is the irony in a so-called democratic state, where the prevalent practice of government officials and State security forces remains to be that of intolerance for progressive beliefs, persecution and dangerous red-tagging,” Palabay said.

Karapatan said Legarda is correct in calling for a review of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the resumption of peace talks between the Manila government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

“[T]he common goal of leaders of our country, whether we are elected in the Senate, or even working with a grassroots organization deemed subversive or Left by the government, but not really proven, can work together towards more equity, peace and authentic real reforms in the countryside,” Legarda said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Legarda added said she would like the Anti-Terror Law to be reviewed, pointing out that she voted against it at the House of Representatives. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)