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“Red-tagging” is a threat to people’s life, liberty, and security.

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“Red-tagging” is a threat to people’s life, liberty, and security.

Thus declared the Supreme Court in the case of, Deduro v. Maj. Gen. Vinoya (G.R. No. 254753, July 4, 2023)  that overturned a lower court’s 2023 decision dismissing a 2020 petition brought by an activist, Siegfred Deduro, an activist and former representative of the Bayan Muna party-list.

Deduro  alleged that the Philippine military and anti-communist groups “explicitly identified” him as a  ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

Deduro sought a writ of amparo which  is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

The Supreme Court stressed that one form of such threats is the act of red-tagging, acknowledged by international organizations as a form of harassment and intimidation.

Labelling a person “red” often comes with frequent surveillance, direct harassment, and in some instances, eventual death.

The ruling was uploaded in the Supreme Court website last May 8, 2024 where it  stressed that being associated with communists makes a red-tagged person a target of vigilantes, paramilitary groups or even state agents. It also noted that red-tagging uses threats and intimidation to discourage “subversive activities.”

The Court further stressed that although it is uncertain whether such “red-baiting” threats ripen into actual abduction or killing of supposed “reds,” Deduro should not be expected to “await his own abduction, or worse, death, or even that the supposed responsible persons directly admit their role in the threats to [his] life, liberty, or security.

In his concurring opinion. SC Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen  red tagging is used by the military and paramilitary units to silence or cause untold human rights abuses on vocal dissenters. Leonen was my professor from the University of the Philippines College of Law.

Aside from government agents’ resort to stereotyping or caricaturing individuals., Leonen noted that this is accomplished by providing witnesses who, under coercive and intimidating conditions, identify the leaders of organizations critical of the administration as masterminds of ordinary criminal acts.

Not only does this make these leaders’ lives and liberties vulnerable,  Justice Leonen stressed that  a chilling effect on dissent is also generated among similar-minded individuals.

A person seeking the protective ambit of a writ of amparo need not await the inimical outcomes of being red-tagged to come to pass to be entitled to the writ. The heightened risk of danger or death brought about being labelled as a Communist, a Communist sympathizer, or even merely being adjacent to a Communist cause should be seriously considered by judges in amparo proceedings

“Belief in communism has historically been used as a bogey to create non-existent exigencies for purposes of national security. History records the many human rights violations that may have been caused by this unsophisticated view of some in the echelons of military power. History, too,  teaches,  that toleration and the creation of wider deliberative spaces are the more lasting and peaceful ways to debunk worn-out ideologies,” Leonen said.

Carlos Conde of  Human Rights Watch  said that the ruling  affirms that red-tagging is a dangerous form of harassment that violates people’s rights and that it  acknowledges the suffering of countless victims of this government policy.

Red-tagging intensified after then-President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 issued Executive Order 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The task force has become the main agency behind red-tagging of leftist activists along with journalists, Indigenous leaders, teachers, and lawyers.

The  Makabayan bloc called for the urgent passage of a bill pending at the House of Representatives  seeking to declare red-tagging as a crime.

 Several organizations have called for the repeal of Duterte’s Executive Order No. 30 that would abolish the NTF-ELCAC.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) earlier said in a statement that  “the serious and continuing threats and the failure to condemn and prosecute the acts of violence is an act of injustice in itself which equally erodes public trust and confidence in our justice system.”

Justice Leonen cited Justice Abraham Sarmiento ‘s statement that “ our own history is an example of when the premise of suppressing the alleged terrors of Communism led to decades of exploiting power for oppression and death. “

 (Peyups is the moniker of the University of the Philippines. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the Seafarers’ Division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan Law Offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 09175025808 )

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