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Supreme Court of the Philippines rejects ‘red-tagging’

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has issued a major ruling on May 8, 2024, declaring “red-tagging” a threat to people’s life, liberty, and security.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has issued a major ruling on May 8, 2024, declaring “red-tagging” a threat to people’s life, liberty, and security.

No matter the sitting president, the Philippine government has been using red-tagging — which is accusing individuals and groups of supporting the country’s communist insurgency — to harass, threaten, and at times assault or kill critics of the government.

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

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 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 stated.

For the Human Rights Watch, the current president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of a former dictator, “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.”

Red-tagging is said to have intensified after former 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.

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“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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