Sotto now ‘inclined’ to support bill vs red-tagging

Published April 7, 2021, 2:54 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Wednesday, April 7, that he may now support proposals to criminalize “red-tagging” by public officials after employees of the upper chamber were accused of being allied with communist rebels.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

National Intelligance Coordinating Agency (NICA) chief Alex Monteagudo claimed that the Senate of the Philippines is “manned” by members of a communist front organization just by the affiliation of its employees’ union — a claim Sotto denied on Tuesday night.

The Senate chief, who has been a senator since 1992, said he would be the “first to sense” if the upper chamber’s employees are indeed engaged in such activities.

“Because of this, I am now inclined to support the criminalizing of red-tagging,” Sotto told reporters on Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier filed Senate Bill No. 2121, which proposes to define and penalize the crime of red-tagging with a jail time of up to 10 years, and perpetual disqualication from holding public office.

Under Drilon’s proposal, “red-tagging” refers to the act of labeling, vilifying, 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.

At first, Sotto, one of the main proponents of the Anti-Terrorism Act, was not keen about legislating a measure to consider red-tagging as a crime. He equated it to name-calling.

“Why don’t you just file a libel case? Because if we criminalize red tagging, we have criminalize ‘narcissist’-tagging and ‘fascist’-tagging? Samantalang (When) it falls in the category of libel, eh ‘di file-an na lang ng libel (then just file a libel case),” Sotto said when the Senate defense committee was hearing last December the alarming red-tagging activities by members of the government’s security sector.

Human rights advocates, including the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), had been calling for a law to criminalize red-tagging.

Senate employees to be ‘investigated’

Sotto said he sent word to NICA to give him the names of Senate employees whom Monteguado was accusing of having links to communist rebels.

“I will have them investigated,” he said, adding the names will remain confidential.

Asked on what comes after the investigation, he replied: “As long as they are not violating any legal tenets in the Senate, the monitoring is enough.”

Monteagudo, in his Facebook account, alleged that the Sandigan ng mga Empleyadong Nagkakaisa sa Adhikain ng Demokratikong Organisasyon (SENADO) serves as the “eyes and ears” of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF) in the Senate.

This was because the SENADO was affiliated with the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), a network of government employees’ unions, which government officials claim to be one of the CPP-NPA-NDF’s front organizations.

Monteagudo did not provide further details on the basis of his claim.

“I thought it was fake news,” Sotto said of the NICA chief’s Facebook post.

Monteagudo, he added, should have communicated with him first before red-tagging the Senate employees.

“That should have been the prudent thing to do!” Sotto said.

Members of the Senate minority bloc — Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, Senators Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima and Francis Pangilinan — also condemned on Wednesday the red-tagging of the SENADO.

“Hindi lang ito pag-atake at paninira nang walang batayan sa mga empleyado, kundi mismong sa institusyon ng Senado na kanilang kinakatawan (This is not only a baseless attack and defamation against the employees, but the institution of the Senate that they also represent),” they said in a joint statement.