January 25, 2024
“Simply doublespeak,” said KARAPATAN secretary general Cristina Palabay in reaction to the Justice Department officials’ pronouncements when asked by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan 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,” said Palabay.
KARAPATAN said that at least one complaint, filed by former Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate against former officials of the NTF-ELCAC, was dismissed. One complaint filed by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers had been resolved by the Ombudsman, but with a very minor penalty on former NTF-ELCAC officials. KARAPATAN’s complaint, along with that filed since 2020 by alternative media organizations, youth leaders, health workers, community pantry organizers, journalists, and civil libertarians remain pending at the Ombudsman.
Moreover, Palabay recalled that Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told the UN Human Rights Committee in 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 said.
It is these statements, Palabay explained, that make the Marcos Jr. administration’s so-called “commitment” to transparency, accountability, and the pursuit of justice and human rights “empty.”
“We have not been remiss in seeking justice for victims in all avenues possible, including filing complaints at the DOJ. Before facing Ms. Khan, does the DOJ even bothered to look into the status of cases of rights violations that victims, families, and rights defenders have submitted for action?” asked Palabay.
The group said that the DOJ’s Administrative Order No. 35 task force, the mechanism that supposedly conducts investigation and leads in the filing of complaints against perpetrators of killings, are “in fact, the first to tolerate impunity, and commit gross injustice against the victims.”
Among the cases of killings that remain pending before the DOJ are those of Randall Echanis, and Zara Alvarez, who were killed in 2020, and had been at the receiving end of threats and red-tagging. Both Alvarez and Echanis were also among the at least 600 names included in the DOJ petition to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as “terrorists” in 2018.
“And the DOJ is saying that there is no policy of red-tagging? How can we expect that these cases will progress in the same agency who pushed and justified the violations they suffered from?” said Palabay.
Victims of the infamous Bloody Sunday killings also suffered blows of injustice from the DOJ. The DOJ panel of prosecutors dismissed both the murder complaints filed against the 17 policemen involved in the killing of labor organizer Manny Asuncion, and the murder charges against the 17 policemen who allegedly killed Ariel and Chai Evangelista. Both cases, which are part of the Bloody Sunday killings, were investigated by the DOJ’s AO 35 mechanism.
“To this day, perpetrators, coming from the State security forces, remain scot-free,” Palabay said.
On the other hand, Karapatan decried that victims of rights violations are even charged with trumped-up and retaliatory cases before the DOJ, an example of which is the perjury charges filed against women abduction survivors Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro.
“As long as that the Marcos Jr. government, including the DOJ, carries out its repressive policy, there will never be confidence, even credibility in this agency, along with other agencies like the NTF-ELCAC that pose real danger each day to those who become victims of red-tagging, State-perpetrated violence and repression,” said Palabay. #