The Ombudsman has become an enabler of red-tagging in failing to take any meaningful action on the administrative complaint IBON filed against government officials three years ago. Because it has dragged its feet, the malicious and baseless vilification of IBON has continued for years even after these officials left their government positions.
On February 10, 2020, IBON filed the country’s first red-tagging case with the Office of the Ombudsman against now former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) officials Lorraine Badoy, retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr, and ex-National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. The administrative complaint was made after being constantly vilified by the task force spokespersons for over a year.
Three years later, the Ombudsman has basically not done anything despite repeated follow-up by IBON and its legal counsel on the status of the case. IBON gave consideration for the lockdowns being imposed soon after the case was filed but said that the pandemic is no longer a valid excuse after so long. The Ombudsman only responded twice in July 2021 and March 2022 with the ambiguous reply that the case was still “at the evaluation stage”. This only changed in its latest response in August 2022 when it said the case was supposedly referred to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
IBON however rejected the NBI referral as not progress at all and as only the Ombudsman making it appear as if it is doing something after years of inaction. Referring the administrative complaint to a criminal investigation unit like the NBI also compromises the case, the group said, since the NBI may only take action if a criminal or libel case is filed against the respondents. IBON opposes the criminalization of libel on principle as a misuse of the judicial system to stifle freedom of expression.
IBON said that the steps the Ombudsman could have taken if it was serious are so simple. The research group said it could have at least subpoenaed or ordered the respondents to answer the petition. Instead, it sat on its hands and let the case idle until Pres. Duterte’s term ended and the red-tagging officials were no longer under government employ.
IBON followed the necessary processes to hold these officials accountable for their bad behavior in good faith. Yet because the government did not and is not taking this case and the dozen other administrative and criminal complaints seriously, red-tagging continued to the end of the Duterte administration and still continues under the Marcos Jr administration.
Badoy, for instance, is now using her show on the Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) to sustain her red-tagging antics against IBON and other organizations. SMNI is owned by avid Duterte supporter and televangelist Apollo Quiboloy.
IBON suspects that Badoy is acting in complicity with the NTF-ELCAC whose funding the Marcos Jr administration even increased. Her program is dedicated to promoting and praising government counter-insurgency efforts and often features NTF-ELCAC officials as guests. Badoy’s so-called role in SMNI apparently allows the NTF-ELCAC deniability in its continuing efforts to red-tag and discredit critics and activists.
The group noted the Memorandum of Partnership Agreement (MOPA) between SMNI and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) signed in October 2022. Based on a document obtained by Vera Files, the partnership boosts the AFP’s efforts to discredit organizations it considers “communist terrorist groups (CTGs)”.
IBON said that it is not far-fetched that Badoy and her SMNI cohorts are being paid from the Php9.3 billion in confidential and intelligence funds for 2023 that the government refuses to disclose.
IBON stressed that government’s deliberate inaction on red-tagging cases, the SMNI-AFP partnership, and the maintenance and funding of the NTF-ELCAC indicate the Marcos Jr administration’s continuity with the vilification campaign of its predecessor. The only adjustment that has perhaps been done is to take consideration of the widespread public and international backlash against red-tagging as previously done.
IBON challenges the current government and the Ombudsman to take real action against red-tagging. The group said that the administration should also heed demands to abolish the NTF-ELCAC and realign funds away from efforts that vilify civil society and people’s organizations and tighten democratic space.