“The Department of Justice is there to give justice to every man, woman and child, no matter the circumstance at birth, no matter the economic standing, we will give them all sense of justice,” said Boying Remulla at his first flag raising ceremony as secretary of justice.

But this is the same Boying Remulla, whose job indeed it is to provide justice to every man, who now says that red tagging is part of democracy. Let’s weigh him on the scales of justice and see how he fares on that statement.

Let’s remind him of the case of Victoria Tauli Corpuz, one of the most internationally distinguished Filipinos ever. The ethnic Kankana-ey Tauli Corpuz is an internationally acclaimed indigenous rights activist appointed by the United Nations as its Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples’ rights.

But what did the DOJ do? Under Rodrigo Duterte, it filed a list in a Manila court that sought approval to call 600 persons as terrorists, among them Victoria Tauli Corpuz. It was a virtual hit list. Yet elsewhere in the world of red taggers, who is Tauli Corpuz? In 2021, she was included in a list of ten people who had important roles in world scientific developments compiled by the scientific journal Nature.

In January 2021, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Information Exchange posted on Facebook that human rights lawyers Roan Libarios (a former congressman), Alexander Padilla (a former government official), and Rafael Aquino (lawyer volunteer for the Free Legal Assistance Group) were – look how ridiculous this is – former armed combatants “who have been captured or killed.” But they had never been dead, as yet.

In the last six years of the red-tagger Duterte regime, two prominent Mindanao journalists were denounced in flyers or streamers as “active members of the Communist Party of the Philippines or the New People’s Army,” the photojournalist Froilan Gallardo and the editor in chief of the Mindanao GoldStar Daily Leonardo Corrales. Yet they are known to actively socialize outside their journalism profession and openly circulate in the city where they live.

In 2020, the critically acclaimed novelist and screenplay writer Lualhati Bautista was accused in social media as being a member of the NPA. Bautista’s personal safety was immediately endangered. Life is never the same for the red-tagged. She later threatened the accuser, a Jefferson Badong, with cyberlibel. What was Bautista’s “sin”? She is an unabashed critic of Rodrigo Duterte.

But for those from the lesser states of life, red tagging is a death sentence. Remulla need not be reminded of the fate of the assassinated Macli-ing Dulag after he had opposed the Chico River dam project that will inundate his community, or of the student paper writer Liliosa Hilao who was tortured and mutilated, the first case of extrajudicial killing of the Marcos dictatorship. Red tagging is a remnant of tyranny. Why, even Ana Patricia Non who organized community pantries during the pandemic lockdown because government was inept to address food security was tagged as a communist. Of course Non had to stop the much-needed activity for some time. Red tagging can lead to assassination.

Boying Remulla is a lawyer; most of us are not. But why do his syllogisms defy his own education in law? Because he belongs to the Cold War era.

Red tagging is a form of blacklisting that disrespects a person’s legal rights and constitutional guarantees of presumption of innocence. It is a pernicious violation of human rights. It impinges upon the right to free expression and dissent.

In the flourishing democracies of the world today – and I do not mean just western democracies – red tagging is considered a thing of the past. These are countries whose political systems are dominated by the power of popular choice. Citizens have the tools to reject – and criticize — political beliefs without fear of government retaliation.

The Philippines does not have those tools. We do not have a full democratic choice. What we have are electorates whose votes are bought or whose voters are easily swayed by the political patronage of dynast politicians fattened by government thievery. We have automated elections but our vote counting machines can be manipulated. Our Commission on Elections is filled with beheld political appointees who make bizarre pronouncements of the law like the Ferolino Doctrine and then get away with it.

Red tagging thrives when power does not reside in the people.