The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday said it has no policy of "red-tagging," touting instead its mechanism for investigating political violence when it was confronted with a government report labeling three party-list groups as communist creations.
During budget deliberations at the House of Representatives, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate raised before DOJ officials the Philippine government's May 2020 human rights situationer, which is posted on the DOJ website.
The report was consolidated by the Department of Foreign Affairs based on input from different government agencies. It includes a section on the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a body created by President Rodrigo Duterte's Executive Order No. 70.
Zarate zeroed in on this sentence: "In Congress, three resolutions were filed by known CPP-created party-lists, namely, Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) calling for the abolition of E.O. 70."
The lawmaker denied their organizations were created by the Communist Party of the Philippines. "We are a legally registered party. Nagkaroon kami ng kongreso in 2000/1999 and we were duly elected by our constituencies," he said.
Progressive groups have long objected to being "red-tagged," or accused of being communist rebels or fronts, saying the label has led to threats and violence against their members over the years.
In the most recent incidents, activists Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez were killed within weeks of each other last month.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said they were not aware of the sentence mentioned by Zarate. Undersecretary Markk Perete explained that the DOJ's part in the report related only to its AO35 mechanism.
Administrative Order No. 35 of 2012 creates a committee dedicated to resolving cases of political violence in the form of extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other grave human rights violations.
Zarate said, however, that the document is a "collective report" of the Philippine government, including the DOJ, and claimed that its posting on the DOJ website is "tacit endorsement" of its contents.
Pressed by Zarate, all three DOJ officials said the department has no policy of red-tagging progressive groups.
Guevarra assured the congressman that the department sticks to the evidence when resolving complaints filed before its prosecutors.
"We have taken due note of the concern of Cong. Zarate and we would like to assure him that insofar as the DOJ is concerned ay wala naman kaming ginagawang ganong parang policy ng red-tagging or something like that," he said at the hearing.
"As a matter of policy, we always resolve cases on the basis of the evidence presented before us, at least during my tenure as Secretary of Justice, I made it a point na ang lahat ng pagbabasehan ay naaayon lamang sa ebidensya," he added.
He brought up AO35, explaining that the mechanism itself initiates investigations on cases of political violence. Guevarra chairs the inter-agency committee created by AO35.
The budget department proposed a budget of P22.5 billion for the DOJ for 2021, lower than the department's own proposal of P33.4 billion but higher than its 2020 budget of P22.025 billion. — RSJ, GMA News