A HUMAN rights group on Thursday warned that the spate of arrests and communist-tagging targeting opposition members could affect the integrity of the 2022 national elections, days after President Rodrigo R. Duterte again claimed that several progressive party-lists are part of the local Maoist movement.
“With the recent spate of arbitrary arrests, harassment, and red-tagging targeting activists and the political opposition, we can only expect these attacks to worsen — and they threaten to undermine the integrity of our upcoming elections in May,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina E. Palabay said in an e-mailed statement.
Mr. Duterte said in a public address on Tuesday night that party-list groups under the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives serve as “legal fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines, even if it has repeatedly denied the allegation.
The President made the statement days after the government’s anti-communist task force linked Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, who is running for president in the May polls, and other members of the opposition with the Maoist movement.
“President Duterte’s blatant red-tagging of the Makabayan coalition and the NTF-ELCAC’s (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) schemes against VP Leni Robredo not only make it evident that red-tagging is a State policy: it also exposes the desperation of the Duterte administration,” Karapatan said, noting that the administration is now working “overtime” to defeat the opposition camp.
Citing local reports, Karapatan said that a day before Ms. Robredo’s presidential campaign in a central Philippine province on March 29, at least 50 streamers accusing her of colluding with the communist movement were placed on trees and posts surrounding a government establishment.
Karapatan also cited the arrests of social activists in the countryside amid the intensified campaign of the Philippine anti-communist task force.
Meanwhile, political prisoners’ group Kapatid welcomed back community doctor Naty Castro after six weeks of imprisonment in Agusan del Sur, which critics said happened due to her advocacies and human rights works.
“Her release is the offshoot of the growing pushback against the red-tagging and criminalization of human rights defenders and activists,” Kapatid said.
“There is no way for the court to have ruled otherwise than to dismiss the charges of kidnapping against her because these are not only plainly ridiculous but also brazenly contemptuous of constitutionally and universally protected rights.”
The group said the legal victory is the culmination of the tireless efforts of Ms. Naty’s supporters, whose efforts garnered significant media attention and developed into a groundswell of popular support against the anti-communist task force.
A global human rights watchdog recently started a campaign to sanction human rights violators in the Philippines.
The Magnitsky sanction campaign initiated by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines seeks to impose travel and financial bans on government officials who abetted crimes against humanity.
The campaign targets “architects” of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs as well as his anti-insurgency campaign that critics said has facilitated the arrests of activists and other members of the opposition.
In a statement on Thursday, Palace spokesman Jose Martin M. Andanar parroted authorities’ claims that the rights group’s agenda is “simply to name and shame the Philippines before the international community.”
“It is baffling how it has come up with allegations of human rights violations of the Philippine government without validating the same with the appropriate authorities,” he said.
Mr. Duterte’s drug war that has killed thousands has been criticized by domestic and international civic groups and rights watchdogs.
The Philippine justice department said last year that there were irregularities surrounding the deaths of suspects in raids involving Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
Alleged drug suspects in 52 cases neither fought back nor resisted arrest, contrary to police claims, with many of the cases lacking witnesses, the department said in a 21-page report, citing forensic evidence. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza