Sunday, September 19, 2021

Editorial: Censure not enough

TO SHUSH a kid for speaking out loud while having a secret relish for his candidness. That’s just how a gag order would ever amount to, that which National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. ordered on anti-community body spokespersons Lt. Gen Antonio Parlade and Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy. To “desist from issuing further statements on the community pantries.” The defense sector has been all agog in its red-tagging spree all along, we’re not surprised. It was in full force in the Senate hearing when it pushed for the terror bill, easily linking the House’s Makabayan Bloc as communists.

So it wasn’t as though, suddenly, a fit of affection for community pantries struck Esperon that he shushed the two unbridled mouths from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The embarrassing public backlash forced them to retract or they’d lose the “propaganda front,” for that was what Parlade admittedly feared, that the pantries will be used by communist propaganda.

But, really, at the core of this mess is the sordid business of red-tagging. Last year, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) caused a stir in the education sector after releasing a list of schools involved in a communist-driven government ouster plot. On Oct. 3, 2020, Parlade named 18 Metro Manila schools where, he alleged, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) showed Marcos martial law films as a way to recruit members. The AFP later admitted the list was still subject to further probe, and by “later” we mean days after Parlade’s allegations.

So we have this suave and confidence that these people flaunt while instilling fear in the public. Imagine a madman shooting red balls of paint at everyone he sees and declaring, “You’re dead!” For, really, red-tagging is a verbal juramentado that, on record, translates to actual arrests or, worse, killing.

Earlier, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez filed a resolution asking the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate cases of red-tagging and profiling activities that forced several community pantries to close.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra reacted this week, saying Congress should enact a law “clearly defining and expressly penalizing what is loosely called today as ‘red-tagging.’”

“If the Congress is minded to criminalize red-tagging, it should enact the appropriate legislation,” Guevarra told reporters.

As legal retaliation against red-tagging, complainants can only file around charges of defamation, harassment, coercion, unjust vexation, or violation of privacy laws, but never a case called “red-tagging,” said Guevarra.

Meanwhile, Sen. Franklin Drilon has already crafted Senate Bill 2121, which seeks to define red-tagging as the “act of labeling, villifying, branding, naming, accusing, harassing, persecuting, stereotyping, or caricaturing individuals, groups, or organizations as state enemies, left-leaning, subversives, communists, or terrorists as part of a counter-insurgency or anti-terrorism strategy or program, by any state actor, such as law enforcement agent, paramilitary, or military personnel.”

Drilon had been most grateful following the justice secretary’s virtual support for the move to create a law protecting citizens from red-tagging.

This must get as much public support as it can to pressure lawmakers and even the President to certify the bill as urgent.

The NTF-ELCAC’s insecurities had almost damaged the zeal of community pantries had kind-hearted individuals not been persistent and passionate in their acts of kindness.

Suddenly, we have soldiers and policemen following suit, if not because stifling the energy of people in the pantries would only put disablers in a bad light, but that, and we hope, they genuinely believe in the whole act of giving in the time of need.


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