Red-tagging can’t be outlawed

After being a troublesome, disagreeable gang of less than a dozen noisy partylist legislators in the House of Representatives, the so-called “Makabayan Bloc” in the outgoing Congress has become a spent force.

In the incoming Congress, their number has been embarrassingly reduced to three or four. The marked reduction in their ranks in Congress indicates that the electorate has had enough of their obstructionist activities, especially in vital legislation.

For starters, the “Makabayan Bloc” is anything and everything except “Makabayan.” Their outgoing members have done nothing but to needlessly discredit the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for either inexistent or very minor flaws. They pass off their obstructionist agenda for nationalism and expect the public to fall for their self-serving charade.

Those guys were in for a surprise.

The results of the election show that they are no longer able to hoodwink the voters into believing their claim to being nationalists. They have been exposed and the voters do not want them anymore.

Observers believe that the only reason why these troublesome partylist congressmen managed to get a few seats in the recent election is the apparent support they got from their remaining die-hard radical supporters in the country, particularly those who have enjoyed the financial spoils of their legislators-benefactors.

Representative Carlos Zarate, one of the group’s talking heads, earlier attributed their electoral defeat to alleged irregularities in the canvassing of ballots. His claim is, however, belied by the Commission on Elections and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

Even the camps of defeated presidential candidates Leni Robredo and Isko Moreno Domagoso admitted that the canvass of votes in the presidential and vice-presidential polls done by Congress was regular and in order.

When his ruse failed, Zarate blamed their defeat on President Duterte and the military establishment’s alleged penchant to engage in the red-tagging of their group.

That notwithstanding, Zarate’s few remaining partylist allies elected to the House of Representatives vowed to enact legislation to outlaw red-tagging.

They obviously do not realize red-tagging cannot be outlawed.

Red-tagging, or statements associating a person or an organization to communism, can never be, by itself, declared illegal.

First of all, a distinction must be made. If a purely private person who has no open involvement or public participation in an issue involving communism and its supporters, tagging that individual as a communist or a red sympathizer is illegal.

However, if the person or organization subjected to red-tagging is an elected or appointed public official, he is open to both public and press criticism for his actions and statements. If that person or organization is perceived by the public or the press as a communist individual or group, or a red sympathizer, there is nothing that person or organization can do about that.

After all, nobody forced them to hold public office, or to participate or get involved in a matter of public interest and concern.

The same observation applies to public figures — private persons who participate or get involved in a discussion involving public interest and concern.

At the end of the day, the adage rings true — he who wants a share of public power and discussion, must be ready to face public scrutiny.

Any law that will outlaw red-tagging of public officials, public figures, as well as persons or organizations who participate in a discussion involving public interest and concern, is unconstitutional.

Philippines jurisprudence has repeatedly upheld the constitutional right of the public and the press to speak out, whether correctly or erroneously, against public officials and public figures, as well as persons or organizations involved in a discussion of public interest and concern, if they honestly believe that the actions or statements of such persons or organizations threaten public interest and concern.

The next time the so-called “makabayan” legislators demand a law against red-tagging, they should first read the Constitution and pertinent jurisprudence on free speech and press freedom.

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