Sotto, Lacson not keen on criminalizing red-tagging

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Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson do not think that red-tagging should be considered a crime, saying it may run counter to the right to free speech. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 1) — Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson do not think that red-tagging should be considered a crime, saying it may run counter to the right to free speech.

The Senate President on Tuesday said that to criminalize red-tagging, or publicly alleging that individuals are rebels or allies of rebels, would also call for the need to criminalize "fascist-tagging" which would further complicate matters.

Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense, echoed Sotto's concern but added that he plans to seek the Department of Justice's advice on the issue.

"Baka bumangga sa freedom of expression," said Lacson in a panel hearing. "Kasi 'pag sinabi komunista ka, sagutan ng kabila pasista ka, saan tayo lulugar?"

[Translation: It may cause conflict with freedom of expression. Because if someone calls you a communist, and you brand him a fascist, where would we stand?]

Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit disagreed with the senators' concern.

"It is not against freedom of expression because free speech is not absolute," Gomez-Dumpit said. "It cannot be exercised to the detriment of others."

Sotto said the red-tagging issue can be covered by libel laws. But former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who said he was a victim of red-tagging himself, argued that it is not that simple.

"Ang red-tagging ay 'yung paggamit ng government funds, government resources, to vilify other people, so hindi siya kapareho ng level ng freedom of expression," the ex-congressman said.

[Translation: Red-tagging is using government funds and resources to vilify other people, so it is not at the same level as that of freedom of expression.]

Military officials accused of falsely tagging personalities of conspiring with communists have repeatedly maintained that they are merely "truth-tagging" and that these can be proven with available evidence. However, the documents and witness testimonies that have been presented are still up for verification.