Groups seeks SC probe on judge being red-tagged

The Supreme Court has been asked to investigate the red-tagging of a Mandaluyong City judge who earlier dismissed the case filed against Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem.

The Public Interest Law Center (PILC) asked the Court to take action against the red-tagging of Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio of Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court Branch 209, who ordered the immediate release of Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago.

Shortly after their release, a tarpaulin with communist logos was seen along EDSA Shaw, thanking the judge for the quick release of Salem and Esparago.

The appeal against red-tagging came as more than 900 independent lawyers and members of various law faculties urged the Supreme Court to take proactive measures to protect judges, lawyers and members of the legal profession from threats and killings.

In a letter to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta and the other members of the high court, the lawyers said they are “deeply troubled and concerned” by the recent reports that the Philippine National Police has asked trial courts to compile a list of lawyers who represents personalities being linked with the communist terrorist group (CTGs).

The University of the Philippines College of Law through Dean Edgardo Carlo Vistan II led the 157 faculty members and the other lawyers in seeking action from the Court.

A separate letter signed by 736 independent lawyers was also sent to Peralta asking the Court to provide protection for lawyers against impunity.

In their letter-request, the UP College of Law expressed its outrage over police action which violates the independence of the judiciary through its attempt to secure the names of lawyers representing so-called communist terror groups.

They also expressed concern over lawyers who have been killed after having been “profiled” and “red-tagged.”

Vistan cited the letter sent by Lt. Fernando Calabria to the Calbayog City Clerk of Court seeking the names of lawyers serving as counsel for alleged members of CTGs.

“We do believe that this Court is vested with sufficient power under the Constitution to protect its officers, including lawyers, prosecutors, and judges, as well as its staff and personnel from such threats, intimidation, and even killings,” Vistan said.

“For this reason, we now seek the Court’s intervention to protect its lawyers, its officers, and to ensure that the administration of justice is not held hostage by threats, pressure, and intimidation by yet unidentified people acting with impunity,” he added.

The UP College of Law dean said they are asking the Court en banc to formally discuss the issue by docketing it as an administrative matter.

The UP lawyers also suggested the creation of a “Special Committee to Protect Lawyers” to be headed by an incumbent member of the Court with representatives from lower courts, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and other lawyers’ network and the legal academe.

Vistan said the committee should be mandated to investigate the circumstances behind the letter sent to the Calbayog City Clerk of Court and all similar requests.

In the Salem case, PILC lawyers who served as legal counsels for the journalist and Esparago during their court hearings asked the Court to investigate the use of the tarpaulin that red-tagged the judge.

“We call for a thorough investigation of this latest incident, especially by the Supreme Court in its duty to the administration of justice. Not only is it an underhanded threat against Judge Quisumbing-Ignacio, it also seeks to undermine the independence of all judges and courts handling similar cases,” the PILC said, in a statement.

In a tweet, BayanMuna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite lamented that a tarpaulin was seen along EDSA Shaw, thanking the judge for the quick release of Salemand Esparago.

It was implied in the tarpaulin, through the logos located at the bottom of the tarpaulin, that the message came from the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

“The guileful red-tagging of Judge Ignacio, via printed tarpaulins that cropped up in Mandaluyong and other parts of the metro thanking her for the dismissal of the cases against our client, journalist Lady Ann Salem, and trade unionist Rodrigo Espargo, is an attack on the court’s independence,” the group said.

They believed that the insinuations that Ignacio, Salem and Esparago are linked to the CPP and NPA is consistent with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC) posturing that raised these connections, reportedly using false and perjured witnesses and filing of false charges.

“The dismissal of the cases against Salem, on clear legal merits, has been one of the few reassurances that state-sanctioned wrongs and political persecution can be addressed and corrected. The incident invariably shifts the attention to courts which are doing their jobs properly, instead of to law enforcement that violates civil and political rights,” PILC said.

On Dec. 10, 2020, as the world marked International Human Rights Day, Salem, Esparago and five other activists were arrested by authorities and were charged for illegal possession of firearms and explosives after the authorities raided their residences and offices by virtue of search warrants issued by Quezon City RTC Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert.

Salem, aside from being an editor of Manila Today, is also the communications officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT).

Ignacio dismissed the charges filed against them and ordered their release.

The Commission on Human Rights said it was deeply concerned over the posting of the tarpaulin.

The spokesperson for the CHR, Jacqueline Ann de Guia, said amid the recent violent attacks on judges, prosecutors, lawyers and other legal professionals, such incriminating claims in the tarpaulin linking Quisumbing-Ignacio to the Communist Party of the Philippines without any specific and verifiable evidence exposed her to grave danger.

“She is being attacked in connection to her decisions involving prosecutorial discretion and the exercise of due process rights,” De Guia said.

As essential agents in the administration of justice, members of the legal profession “shall not be identified with their clients or their client’s causes as a result of discharging their functions,” she said.

De Guia cited Article 18 of the United Nation Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

“By doing so, we contribute in the direct deprivation of the people’s access to functioning and effective judiciary,” she said.

“CHR continues to urge the government to act with resolve in reducing the violence on the ground and upholding the rule of law,” she added.

Two militant lawmakers on Wednesday denounced the red-tagging of judges and lawyers, even as he urged the Supreme Court for a pro-active response to put a stop to what he described as deadly search warrants issued by courts, especially in Metro Manila.

“We vehemently condemn and denounce the red-tagging of Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio by anti-democratic forces and urge the High Court to publicly condemn and investigate this, as well,” Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said.

“Red-tagging posters and tarpaulins, even premature campaigning posters, have been proliferating all over Metro Manila since last year, yet, it is strange, even suspicious, that the authorities claim ignorance as to who are putting up these posters despite the presence of CCTV cameras all over the metropolis,” Zarate said.

He said such an “attack” against on Ignacio “is clearly part of the continuing red-tagging and vilification campaign against… activists who are facing trump-up charges filed by state forces,” he said.

Zarate’s fellow Bayan Muna legislator, Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said “the posting of this tarp is highly condemnable and a blatant form of red-tagging not just against activists like us, but also against all those members of the legal system and others who are supposed to provide a mechanism for due process of the “accused.”

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