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Criminalize red-tagging? File libel complaint instead, says Sotto

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday hinted misgivings on crafting a legislation that would criminalize red-tagging in the Philippines.

Sotto said those who are wrongly being linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) may just seek redress by filing a libel complaint against their accusers.

"I think, why don't you just file a libel case? Because if we criminalize red-tagging, we also have to criminalize fascist-tagging," Sotto said during a Senate hearing conducted by the committee on national defense and security.

"For the record, just so you may think about that, instead of having Congress discuss it and file a bill criminalizing red-tagging, which at this point would be very difficult to do, I think so," he added.

In response, Bayan Muna chairperson Neri Colmenares pointed out that red-tagging is different in nature because the government resources are involved.

"Iba ang red-tagging sa ordinary expressions naman ng mamamayan. Nabanggit nga kanina ng CHR (Commission on Human Rights), ang red-tagging ay paggamit ng government funds, public funds, government resources... to vilify other people," he said.

"Hindi siya kapareho ng sa level ng freedom of expression kasi dito ang puwedeng defense lang palagi nila as government officials is good faith, 'Eh public duty namin, good faith ito.' Kaya ang ordinaryong tao will have to hurdle that. Good faith 'yan sasabihin ninyo pero klaro naman ang malice," he added.

Sotto, meanwhile, said government officials are not exempted from being charged with libel.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon reiterated during Tuesday's inquiry that the state security forces do not red-tag as he claimed that it was CPP founding chairman Joma Sison who named the front organizations of the communist rebels.

Sison has earlier refuted this allegation and said the video of his speech was spliced by the military to make it appear as such.

After three hearings, the Senate panel adjourned the inquiry on red-tagging.

Committee chairperson Panfilo Lacson believes that both the militant groups and the security sector had fairly been given enough chance to air their sides regarding the issue.

He said the information gathered in the hearings are enough for the senators to come up with an objective committee report.—AOL, GMA News