By John Victor D. Ordoñez
POLITICAL activists in prison face an uphill battle after President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. named a Justice chief who had accused some people of being communists, analysts said at the weekend.
“While he is a lawyer by training, he spent most of his time as a politician,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said in a Viber message, referring to incoming Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla. She added that the public should watch how he runs the Justice department given his loyalty to President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
The tough-talking Philippine leader had accused community pantries that offered free food amid a coronavirus pandemic of being part of the Maoist movement.
Mr. Remulla’s so-called red-tagging of certain personalities does not inspire confidence in the Justice department since many activists have been imprisoned on fabricated charges, said Fides M. Lim, convenor of rights group Kapatid.
“Presumption of guilt has no place in the Department of Justice (DoJ), especially if you claim to be a professional and constitutionalist,” she said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “It will be a big challenge to sit down with him, but it takes two to have a dialogue.”
Mr. Remulla, who was among Mr. Duterte’s allies in Congress who opposed the franchise renewal bid of ABS-CBN Corp., earlier said he would be “more reserved” about accusing activists of being part of the communist movement.
During the campaign period, he linked supporters of Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo to the Maoist movement.
“Red-tagging is a political term, I’m just unmasking them,” he told the ABS-CBN News Channel last week. “I am just telling the truth.”
Human Rights group Karapatan earlier said Mr. Remulla’s appointment is concerning due to his history of red-tagging. It added that injustice and impunity would likely continue under the new justice chief.
Last week, Mr. Remulla vowed to fast-track pending criminal cases and keep track of the jail sentences of all prisoners. He would do this by creating a digital database of criminal cases and developing a data tracking system, as part of reforms he seeks to enforce as Justice chief, he told CNN Philippines.
He also said he was open to reviewing the case of detained Senator Leila M. de Lima, who has been in jail since February 2017 on drug trafficking charges, even as he noted that courts frown upon retractions.
“That’s already a cause of concern, that is a red flag that there is something wrong,” he told CNN Philippines.
Several witnesses have retracted their testimonies implicating Ms. De Lima, one of the most outspoken critics of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs, in the illegal drug trade. They claimed to have been coerced by government officials into falsely accusing her.
Mr. Remulla also said he would look at the initial results of the DoJ’s review of extralegal killings by police in Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
“The recent statement of the incoming Justice secretary about the ‘red flags’ relating to the cases of detained Senator Leila de Lima should apply as well to the rest of the political prisoners who are likewise victims of systematic trumped-up cases that have become weaponized as a tool of political persecution,” Ms. Lim said.
As justice chief, Mr. Remulla will become a member of the newest anti-terror law’s Anti-Terrorism Council. He will also head a committee that investigates the killings of activists and dissenters.