Philippines: Supreme Court Rejects ‘Red-Tagging’

Human Rights

(Manila) – The Philippine Supreme Court issued a major ruling on May 8, 2024, declaring “red-tagging” a threat to people’s life, liberty, and security, Human Rights Watch said today. The Philippine government has been using red-tagging—accusing individuals and groups of supporting the country’s communist insurgency—to harass, threaten, and at times assault or kill critics of the government.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should publicly endorse the Supreme Court decision and promptly adopt measures to end the practice and appropriately discipline or prosecute officials who engage in red-tagging.

“The Supreme Court’s important ruling affirms that red-tagging is a dangerous form of harassment that violates people’s rights,” said Carlos Conde, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This decision acknowledges the suffering of countless victims of this government policy.”

In its ruling, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s 2023 decision dismissing a 2020 petition brought by an activist, Siegfred Deduro, who alleged that the Philippine military and anti-communist groups “explicitly identified” him as having links to the communist New People’s Army. Deduro sought a writ of amparo, which allows a person to seek various remedies from the courts, such as protection orders. The writ of amparo, which the Supreme Court approved in 2007 as a response to increased incidents of red-tagging, is “a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.” The writ covers extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, or threats thereof.

The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court that dismissed Deduro’s petition erred and violated due process, and they ordered the trial court to conduct a summary hearing to essentially retry the case and come up with a verdict within 10 days. “Red-tagging, vilification, labelling, and guilt by association threaten a person’s right to life, liberty, or security, which may justify the issuance of a writ of amparo,” the court said in a news release announcing the ruling.

The Philippine government has long used red-tagging or red-baiting as part of its efforts against the communist insurgency, which began in the late 1960s. The government’s counterinsurgency tactics include trying to discourage potential recruits and sympathizers.

Those targeted have included leaders and members of leftist activist groups and human rights organizations, as well as religious, Indigenous, and environmental groups. The government uses red-tagging to identify these groups and individuals publicly and intimidate them.

Red-tagging intensified after then-President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 issued Executive Order 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The task force has become the main agency behind red-tagging of leftist activists along with journalists, Indigenous leaders, teachers, and lawyers. A bill criminalizing red-tagging is pending in the Philippine congress.

Human rights groups, as well as UN experts and foreign governments, have recognized the pernicious effect of red-tagging, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Marcos administration should abandon red-tagging, including by eliminating the abusive task force promoting the practice,” Conde said. “Foreign governments that have spoken out on this issue should press the government to put the Supreme Court ruling into effect.”

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