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Charter and red tag

From a top law-and-order enforcer to constitutional law-and-order champion in the Senate.

Over the last few months, Sen. Panfilo Lacson has embraced and preached constitutional principles in grappling with a host of political, social and economic issues confronting the nation.

Now, Lacson believes even contentious ideological matters can be settled under a constitutional framework.

In a statement, the very discerning senator said: “The 1987 Constitution will be the ultimate guide on whether there is basis to criminalize ‘red-tagging’.”

He said he and his legislative staff are poring over position papers and other materials gathered from all sides during the last three hearings on the issue.

“We will study and consider the matter, but the bottom line is that such a move will not violate our Constitution,” he said. .

The veteran law enforcer-turned-lawmaker added: “One major issue to be addressed if we are to criminalize red-tagging or red-baiting is if it will infringe on our Constitution’s provision ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of speech. This is a basic right that cannot be violated. That said, there are opposing views that such freedom is not absolute – that is why we have laws penalizing libel and cyber-libel.”

He maintained the hearings he chaired had been fair, and that the bashing he has received from both sides “comes with the territory”.

Lacson said that while he appreciates the “clarification” by Makabayan Rep. Carlos Zarate of his earlier statement that the Senate hearings had been reduced to a venue for “witch-hunting,” it gave a wrong impression of the conduct of the hearings.

Also, he said he is still being bashed by netizens and bloggers, including those against the government, and even those traced to the Armed Forces and Malacanang.

“That comes with the territory. Given my decades in public service, I have accepted that I cannot please everybody, especially in such a sensitive issue. But with that said, considering that both sides are bashing me on social media means I am doing something right. Otherwise, if one side keeps bashing me and the other keeps praising me, that might be a sign of bias,” he said.

“What is important is that the hearings have helped enlighten the public on the issue,” he added.

Earlier, Malacañang dared the Makabayan bloc and other leftist groups to admit that they are legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines and say that its armed wing, the New People’s Army, should renounce the armed struggle.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark after President Duterte identified the Makabayan bloc, Bayan, Gabriela, and other groups as legal groups of the CPP, alleging that they are part of a “grand conspiracy” to overthrow the government.

Roque said Duterte was irked because the alleged legal fronts have been “lying” about their links with the CPP-NPA by accusing security forces of “red-tagging” when they are “actually red”.

“First and foremost, let’s be honest. Stop accusing the government of red-tagging when they’re really red, according to the President. It’s true,” he said.

While communism itself is not illegal, Roque said these groups could not deny that there are “ties that bind the CPP with the NPA”.

He said it is difficult to separate the CPP from the NPA, especially since all of their statements were always signed as “CPP-NPA.”

“(If you’re a member of CPP, you can be legal, but you have to renounce the use of arms…Why don’t they renounce the use of arms? That’s all we’re asking,” he said.

Since they refused to consider the CPP-NPA as enemies, Roque said the leftist groups would always be associated with criminal activity.

“While they have yet to renounce and still get involved in the use of violence and arms against the republic, it’s criminal,” he said.

Anti-communist groups and other civil society organizations on Tuesday called on the Makabayan bloc lawmakers to resign for allegedly recruiting minors to join the CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front.

Members of the League of Parents of the Philippines, Liga Independencia Pilipinas, Hands Off Our Children, and Yakap ng mga Magulang along with former NPA members and parents of student activists who were reportedly recruited by progressive youth organizations, gathered at the Senate grounds to condemn the Makabayan bloc representatives for “continuously denying their ties with the communist groups”.

During the rally, the groups criticized the bloc for not denouncing the atrocities and violence committed by the NPA members, saying “the representatives seem to serve as the rebels’ spokespersons and propaganda mouthpiece”.