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Philippine bishop backs red-tagging bill

Church authorities address extrajudicial killings with support for new legislation

Philippine bishop backs red-tagging bill

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza says the culture of impunity must be stopped. (Photo: UCA News)

A Catholic bishop in the Philippines has supported the creation of a law that punishes red-tagging or the malicious blacklisting of individuals or organizations critical of the Duterte government as terrorists or communists.

Several government officials were criticized for tagging Duterte’s dissenters either as communists or terrorists, or both.

Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan, a staunch critic of Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, was called a supporter of a communist terrorist organization by a senior government official in June 2020.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos in Negros Occidental province said the culture of impunity must be stopped through a law that punishes red-tagging.

“I wonder if this [bill] will be passed into a law but I support this if only to end red-tagging and the prevailing culture of impunity in the Philippines,” said Bishop Alminaza in a radio interview in March 27.

He said both churchgoers and government officials must stop labeling people as communists or terrorists without evidence.

Senate Bill No. 2121, otherwise known as the Act Defining and Penalizing Red-tagging, would put behind bars those found guilty of red-tagging for at least 10 years.

Bishop Alminaza said the legislation should restore freedom of speech and protection against unreasonable searches and seizures of those critical of the Duterte admiration.

“The bill would hopefully restore a healthy democracy that should allow space for dissenting voices and critics,” he added.

Human life is sacred and must be protected not only by church authorities but by government officials as well, he said.

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“The increasing number of human lives lost due to this practice — lives we value as sacred — can no longer be restored nor compensated and its negative consequences should never be tolerated,” the prelate told reporters.

Several churchgoers, however, doubt the bill will become law due to massive red-tagging by government officials.

“I wonder if this Senate Bill 2121 will become a law. High government officials and even military officers are guilty of red-tagging. I doubt if the president would approve a bill given that his cabinet members are fond of red-tagging,” said Manila churchgoer Raymond Jalmanzar.

Jalmanzar likewise said red-tagging has become normal under the Duterte administration and people had become used to it.

“It is different when government officials themselves do it. It gives the impression that there is basis that a person is communist because the government has the power to investigate. So, if a government or military official says that one is a terrorist or communist, it is believable offhand even if the claim is false,” Jalmanzar added.

Another parishioner said more clergymen should support the bill to convince lawmakers to protect government dissenters.

“Bishop Alminaza has started the call. I hope more bishops and priests will support him and lawmakers pushing for the approval of the anti-red tagging bill. It will bring peace and protection of human rights,” said Gary Ulapia, a social worker in Manila.

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