The democratic way

Published September 24, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz

If you’re one of many Filipinos eager to participate in politics and political discussions but have become wary of being red-tagged, a court decision handed down this week could not have come at a better time.
For the past few years, government officials have resorted to making up stories of communist involvement to demonize both critics and criticisms of official policy. Whether one talks about the jeepney phaseout or corruption, extrajudicial killings or simple incompetence, we have heard officials downplay, discredit or divert attention by claiming the Reds are behind the issues.

Red-tagging is one of the many topics touched by the 135-page decision handed down this week by Judge Marlo A. Magdoza-Malagar.

The decision dismissed the government’s case asking the court to proscript the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist organizations.

As of press time, many lawyers, legal eagles and law groups are still making sense of the sweeping decision which recalled past court decisions, the history of communism in the Philippines, and the government’s basis and arguments for declaring the CPP and the NPA not just illegal, but terrorist.
On a positive note, Malagar’s decision affects everyone because it laid down the law about our rights as citizens to free association, to free expression, and to redress of grievance. Those rights do not disappear simply because the government claims those who exercise it are communists, or suspected to be communists. In other words, communists are Filipinos too and are thus entitled to all the rights under the law.

The court powerfully said:
“Rebellion is rooted in a discontent of the existing order which is perceived to be unjust and inequitable to the majority, and favorable to the wealthy, ruling few. Rebels are usually compelled to resort to violence simply for lack of avenues to be heard, and in order to be in a position to significantly change the status quo. The CPP’s ideology which calls for absolutes – no less than the annihilation of the State to give way to the People’s Democratic Revolution which will ultimately lead to the People’s Democratic Republic of the Philippines is indeed unflinching. However, the CPP can only gain adherents for as long as the government remains insensitive to, and incompetent in addressing, the social realities of poverty and material inequality which bring with them the oppression of the marginalized. The government can, while uncompromising in its fight against the Communism, regard the CPP’s act of taking the cudgels of the marginalized – as an impetus to better address these sectors’ concerns. If our people should see that reforms could be initiated, and carried out from within, the CPP’s call to arms to overthrow the government, will indubitably, be unheeded.”

The decision was also crystal-clear about the rights of Filipinos, including perceived dissidents:
“As to the view that an observance of the dissidents’ constitutional rights will jeopardize the security of the State, the exhortation is that the existence of danger is never a justification for courts to tamper with the fundamental rights expressly granted by the Constitution. These rights are immutable, inflexible, yielding to no pressure of convenience, expediency, or the so-called ‘judicial statesmanship.’ The legislature itself cannot infringe them, and no court conscious of its responsibilities and limitations would do so. If the Bill of Rights are incompatible with stable government and a menace to the Nation, let the Constitution be amended, or abolished. It is trite to say that, while the Constitution stands, the courts of justice as the repository of civil liberty are bound to protect and maintain undiluted individual rights.”

It is still unclear whether the government would appeal the court’s decision. But if the prosecutors would do so, subsequent proceedings would provide the court and the nation an opportunity to better understand the role of activists and revolutionaries in our history. Reds organized the Hukbalahap, and Reds led the resistance to the Marcos dictatorship. The case for the CPP-NPA’s proscription sought to skirt around these historical facts. It also sought to tamper with history by wrongly portraying Reds as the enemies.

For now, Judge Malagar’s decision should provide every Filipino refuge and comfort that — regardless of creed — we should be free to challenge wrong or questionable government policy, to seek accountability, to demand reforms, and even to advocate radical changes in society. That’s the democratic way. And in the case of Reds, that’s the national democratic way.

Both are legitimate and valid.