By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

PHILIPPINE lawmakers should craft a bill that will impose heavier penalties on government officials who baselessly accuse people of being communists, according to a lawyers’ group.

This comes after the Ombudsman found former officials of the country’s anti-communist task force guilty of “conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service,” after they labeled the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) as a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“Since the wrongdoing involved in this case is red-tagging, it is a recognition that it is wrong for those in the government service to engage in the practice, even if it is not penalized as a crime,” NUPL President Ephraim B. Cortez said in a Viber message at the weekend.

“As far as the NUPL is concerned, such wrongdoing should have merited a harsher penalty.”

Former anti-communist task force spokesperson Lorraine Marie T. Badoy and retired General Antonio G. Parlade, Jr. were only given a warning since they were no longer part of the body.

The offense would have led to a suspension of six months to a year and a fine amounting to a year’s worth of their salaries if they still held their posts.

“It is fake news that General Parlade and I are guilty of red-tagging since there is no such thing as red-tagging,” Ms. Badoy said in a Facebook post in Filipino on Sept. 23.

“The NUPL is a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New Peoples’ Army, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and is linked to underground terrorists,” she added, noting that she was “truth-tagging.”

In a Sept. 19 decision, the Ombudsman said the officials had “unduly tarnished the image of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as it perpetuates the notion that it is being used as a governmental tool to silence dissent or opposition.”

The Supreme Court has warned those who threaten and accuse lawyers and judges of being part of the communist movement, saying they would be held in contempt. A person found guilty of indirect contempt faces up to six months of jail time and a fine of as much as P30,000.

As of April 30, there have been 60 reported cases of red-tagging and censorship against media practitioners under the Marcos government, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

The Philippines has remained the deadliest country in Asia for environmental and land defenders for a decade now, according to human rights watchdog Global Witness, which noted that 11 of the 16 killings in the region last year happened in the archipelago.

The watchdog cited a “widespread” criminalization of human rights defenders through red-tagging by the Philippine government.

During a United Nations Human Rights Council session on Nov. 17, 2022, the United States said Philippine state officials should stop accusing people as communists.

A Manila trial court earlier ruled the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, is a legitimate political movement, contrary to the Anti-Terrorism Council’s decision to label them as terrorist groups.