MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights on Sunday called on the Philippine National Police to hand down guidelines on information gathering after an attempt by Calbayog City police to compile names of lawyers representing activists, whom police referred to as members of "communist terrorist groups."
A House lawmaker has also sounded the alarm on government requests for a list of members of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, which are legal groups for government workers and for school teachers.
This, in response to a supposed letter from Department of the Interior and Local Governmenr Assistant Secretary Alexander Macario ordering the agency's regional directors to list COURAGE and ACT members in their areas.
"This is yet another evidence of blatant terrorist-tagging of legitimate people's organizations, and an unwarranted act of harassment and intimidation. They say there is no red-tagging? This is clearly red-tagging," Rep. Ferdinand Gaite (Bayan Muna) said in mixed Filipino and English.
This is not the first time that authorities have tried to compile a list of members of ACT, with the group accusing the PNP of "profiling" its members in 2019. The teachers' group petitioned the Court of Appeals against the police order but this was thrown out due to "infirmities."
'Fend off and discourage': The letter, a copy of which was sent to reporters by Gaite's office, claims without basis that "known communist terrorist group front organizations" have infiltrated government agencies.
While specificying groups like ACT and COURAGE, the DILG in the letter also orders its regional chiefs to list names of members of similar progressive groups in the public sector.
"It is advised for your office to initiate an investigation on the matter and validate employees who are definite members of COURAGE and if found to be true and authenticated, please submit their names for the perusal and information of the undersigned," the letter reads.
"It is advised further, to fend off and discourage existing employees association or organization in your office to affiliate with the known CTG organization."
Although the government refers to activist groups in the national democratic movement as "CTG" organizations, being a member of an activist group is not a crime.
Institutionalized red-tagging?: Officials with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the government's anti-insurgency task force, have been on a red-tagging spree on activist groups in recent months. But the accusations linking progressive and left-leaning groups to communist rebels are now appearing on official government documents.
"Other agencies are probably doing the same too, in a coordinated operation against progressive organizations that is most likely being done under the order of the NTF-ELCAC," Gaite also said.
This latest move by the DILG is not the first instance of this. The Calbayog City police made headlines earlier this weekend after an intelligence officer requested a local court for a list of lawyers representing "Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) personalities in court."
The Commission on Human Rights also condemned the move and welcomed the dismissal of the intelligence officer involved. It also urged the PNP to "to come up with clearer guidelines for its law enforcers on information gathering to assure the public of the reasonable exercise of police power."
"The right to an independent counsel of an accused, preferably of their own choice, is guaranteed by the Constitution, our laws, and the Rules of Court. By targeting lawyers, the concerned police officer equally threatens the rule of law," CHR said.
"This kind of action is unbecoming of a police officer; transcends all legal and statutory basis; and threatens the legal profession by failing to appreciate the role of lawyers in upholding the people's Constitutional rights," it added.
Why now?: The increased instances of red-tagging, which the government calls "truth tagging", comes while the country is in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
To date, the country's department of health has tallied 616,611 coronavirus infections. President Duterte's weekly addresses about the coronavirus situation typically feature lengthy asides about leftists, illegal drugs, and his political opponents.
Progressive groups have been among the loudest in pointing out lapses in the Duterte administration's pandemic response, though the latter routinely deflects these criticisms.
"Following the leak of the letter to the Clerk of Court in Calbayog, this new letter from a DILG high official bolsters our suspicion that government forces are in the process of accomplishing a hitlist which would be followed by more brazen attacks, by more killings, as we have seen in the Calabarzon Bloody Sunday," said Gaite.