The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Monday condemned the inclusion of three lawyers in the military's list of students of the University of the Philippines who allegedly became members of the communist New People's Army (NPA).
IBP president Domingo Egon Cayosa said lawyers Roan Libarios, Alexander Padilla, and Rafael Angelo Aquino are not NPA members and were neither captured nor killed.
"The named lawyers are not members of the New People’s Army (NPA). They were never captured. They are very much alive, not dead. They are responsible and respected Filipino lawyers who serve well our country in various capacities and meaningfully contribute to nation-building," Cayosa said.
His statement comes after the Armed Forces of the Philippines Information Exchange Facebook page posted a list of "some of the UP students who become NPA (died or captured)." The post has been taken down and the AFP has since apologized for "inconsistencies."
Cayosa said that Libarios used to be president of the IBP, was vice governor and then congressman of Agusan del Norte, a member of the Philippine government's peace panel and of the 2018 Consultative Committee on Charter change. Libarios was also editor-in-chief of UP publication Philippine Collegian.
Padilla held positions in government, too, Cayosa said, as an assistant secretary at the Interior Department, Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board and Customs commissioner, Health undersecretary, PhilHealth president, and chief peace negotiator for the government. Padilla had also served as president of the UP law student government.
Aquino was a student leader and is a lawyer for Rotary International District 3820, senior partner of a private law firm, and a volunteer lawyer of the Free Legal Assistance Group, Cayosa said.
Aquino earlier sought an apology from the AFP, and Padilla said on Monday that he and his fellow UP alumni will study whether they would file complaints against those who made the list.
"IBP decries red-tagging as it compromises the security and safety of the subjects, besmirches their reputation, causes unwarranted risks, tension, and distress to their families, friends and loved ones," Cayosa said, adding that red-tagging is illegal.
More than 50 lawyers have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016. Some of them, like National Union of Peoples' Lawyers founding member Benjamin Ramos, were red-tagged prior to their death.
But Cayosa said he is denouncing "misleading claims" not only against IBP members but for all others, recognizing that being red-tagged is even worse for people who have no platform to defend themselves.
"If lawyers and people of stature are put in jeopardy because of red-tagging, we cannot disregard the terror and prejudice that it brings to ordinary citizens who have no means or opportunity to clear themselves as they are unduly threatened, attacked, or even killed by the misguided and unscrupulous," he said.
Cayosa urged the government to set "firm policies" against red-tagging.
"False and reckless publications, shortcuts, and questionable means destroy the very rights, public interests, or principles that we all seek to protect. They weaken the state that we claim to defend," he said.
The military has accused several personalities and organizations of communist links, even going as far as claiming that top Philippine universities are hotbeds for rebel recruitment.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also unilaterally terminated a decades-old agreement with UP, which barred the unauthorized presence of state forces on campus, to supposedly protect students from being recruited into the communist armed movement.
The UP community has protested the move. — RSJ, GMA News