President Duterte has sought the help of Congress to address the country’s problem with communist rebels.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III confirmed Thursday that he met Duterte to discuss issues relating to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).
“In a nutshell, he wanted the CPP/NPA problem solved,” Sotto said when asked about the matters taken up during their meeting in Malacañang last Tuesday.
While declining to divulge more details, the Senate leader said Duterte was apparently asking for their help to address it. “It was also like a consultative meeting,” he said.
Duterte, he said, “merely laughed” when he mentioned in the meeting proposals to criminalize red-tagging. The President “did not say anything,” he said.
Prior to meeting Duterte, Sotto had turned down proposals from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and human rights advocates to criminalize red-tagging of activists and progressive groups.
He said those “offended” of being accused of involvement in communist insurgency should just file libel cases, arguing that criminalizing red-tagging would be equal to penalizing name-calling.
“Eh ‘di file-an na lang ng libel (then just file a libel case),” Sotto said during the Senate Committee on Defense hearing Tuesday on the supposed red-tagging activities by members of the government security sector.
“That’s a food for thought for those offended being called ‘Reds,’ I don’t know why. Instead of having Congress discuss it and file a bill criminalizing red-tagging which, at this point, would be very difficult to do,” he said.
On the other hand, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Wednesday that he is “seriously considering” the recommendation to criminalize red-tagging, as long as it will not violate the freedom of speech and expression provided under the Constitution. During the hearing, he acknowldged that there is “a probable danger or harm to the persons being red-tagged.”
In a public address Monday, Duterte accused the House of Representatives’ Makabayan bloc and their organizations of being legal fronts for the CPP and the NPA.
Echoing his security and defense advisers, Duterte said they are not red-tagging, but are actually identifying them as part of the armed communist movement. The Makabayan bloc has repeatedly denied the allegation.
Sotto said he will just wait for the President to announce if there are specific measures that Duterte wants the Legislative department to pass about the issue.