Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today called on President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime in the Philippines to immediately end its vicious and dangerous campaign of “red-tagging” opposition lawmakers, which is part of widespread attempts to intimidate and silence opponents.
“Red-tagging has had extremely violent consequences in the Philippines, and the fact we are seeing President Duterte leading the way on such a menacing practice is utterly inexcusable,” said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP), and chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “Let’s be clear: not only do the president’s actions attempt to silence political opposition and undermine democracy, but they also directly put people’s lives at risk, particularly those who oppose his agenda.”
In the Philippines, “red-tagging” has long been used by authorities to vilify and harass those perceived as threats to the country by accusing them of being Communists or Communist sympathizers, and those labeled as such have been physically attacked and killed.
President Duterte has taken a lead role in the “red-tagging” campaign, including by recently accusing the Makabayan Bloc of being a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), and comparing Makabayan Representative Carlos Zarate to “dog shit”.
The Philippine Senate is currently conducting an inquiry into alleged red-tagging by military officials, which Zarate has said has been reduced to “a venue for witch hunting”.
“How can lawmakers be expected to fulfil their role as a check on the executive when they themselves are being attacked? We urgently call on President Duterte and the Philippine government to stop labelling directly-elected representatives as terrorists, and allow opposition lawmakers to effectively fulfil their mandates and freely express their opinions,” Santiago said.
In its report, Parliamentarians at Risk, published in September 2020, APHR found that all six lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc have been red-tagged, with some saying they experienced it “almost everyday”. They have been red-tagged online and offline, including on social media, in reports, and news articles, the report found.
The latest comments by Duterte are part of a widespread assault on democracy and human rights in the Philippines by his administration, APHR said. Since coming to power, he has overseen a brutal “war on drugs” that involves extrajudicial killings with near-total impunity, the jailing of government critics – including APHR member Senator Leila de Lima – and in July introduced a new Anti-Terror Law that rights groups say will be used to further threaten and harass human rights defenders and government critics.
“We call on MPs in the Philippines and across Southeast Asia to use their positions to speak up against the practice of ‘red tagging’ in the Philippines, particularly by government officials towards political opponents, and ensure that their colleagues can effectively fulfil their mandates as elected representatives of the people,” said Mu Sochua, an APHR Board Member and former Cambodian MP.