Mindanawon lawyers: Duterte’s tirade against Zarate “dangerous” for all HR lawyers and defenders

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 December) –  “Dangerous.”

President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration Monday night that members of the Makabayan bloc are part of a “grand conspiracy” to overthrow the government, singling out fellow Mindanawon and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate,” is “dangerous (as) it can be interpreted by rogue military or police elements as open season on Congressman Zarate,” said lawyer Antonio La Viña, former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and Law professor from Cagayan de Oro.

Duterte’s statements, he told MindaNews, “do not have any judicial or legal value as (they are) not based on evidence” but “from a practical point of view, it is a prejudgment by your chief enforcement official and so a violation of due process.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate. Photo courtesy of Bayan Muna FB page

Lawyer Romeo Cabarde, one of the spokespersons of Alisto!, a citizens’ platform  launched Tuesday morning where citizens can report violations and abuses related to the controversial Anti-Terror Act of 2020 said the President’s tirade against Zarate “is exactly what we, in Alisto!, are apprehensive about — red-tagging, red-baiting, and terrorist-tagging are sanctioned and made acceptable under the Anti-Terror Act.”

“If a sitting member of the House of Representatives can be can be treated poorly in public, how much more for ordinary citizens, particularly those who do not have access to the means of defending themselves?” Cabarde told MindaNews.

“Many Mindanao farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, and Bangsamoro have found themselves in such a situation, where they are unfairly charged and their rights and safety put at risk,” he said.

Lawyer Mary-Ann Arnado, Secretary-General of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, posted on her Facebok page that Zarate, a schoolmate at the Ateneo de Davao College of Law,  “is a highly respected colleague in the legal profession” who is a “consistent human rights lawyer and a hard-working, honest and incorruptible legislator.”

“Every citizen is entitled to his own political beliefs and whatever color you have – red, yellow, black or blue does not turn you into a criminal or an enemy of the state. For God sake. Please go after the real security threats to this country,” Arnado added.

While in Ateneo de Davao, Zarate was a member of the Tau Mu Fraternity where he was Grand Archon. He passed the bar in 1995. He has served as chair of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines – Davao chapter and the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM).  He is on his third term as Bayan Muna party-list representative.

In a statement, the UPLM said the “insistent red-tagging officially done by no less than the President poses a clear and present danger on the lives of Zarate and all human rights lawyers and defenders.”

It recalled that a number of those who were red-tagged ended up dead: like Benjamin Ramos and Anthony Trinidad, who were among 53 lawyers, prosecutors and judges killed under the Duterte administration since 2016.

“A threat on Zarate is a grave threat on all legislators who are fulfilling their mandate and on all human rights defenders who remain true to their lawyers’ oath. These threats are glaring violations of rights under our Philippine Constitution and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the statement read.

Duterte’s declaration

During his “Talk to the People on COVID-19”  Monday night, Duterte declared the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives as members of a “grand conspiracy” to overthrow the government, and said the Armed Forces of the Philippines is “very correct” in tagging them as communists. Addressing Zarate,  he warned: “bantay ka sa akin” (you better watch out).

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on November 30, 2020. TOTO LOZANO/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

“We are not red-tagging you. We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal fronts that you have organized” under the National Democratic Front, Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.

He described Zarate as a “komunista”  who defended an oligarch, apparently referring to Zarate’s active participation in the deliberations of the Joint House Committees on Legislative Franchise and Good Government” on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. Zarate summed up on July 9 this year the arguments in favor of renewing the franchise.  Majority of the committee members voted the next day to deny the franchise application.

The President said that whenever he sees Zarate on television, “para akong nakakita ng tae ng iro, para akong nakakita ng tae ng aso. Sa totoo lang … Bantay ka sa akin.” (it’s like am seeing dog’s poop, it’s like am seeing dog’s poop. That’s true…. You better watch out),  Duterte warned before asking Health Secretary Francisco Duque to report on COVID-19.

Zarate ignored Duterte’s insults. The UPLM said it is “beneath the UPLM to even address the (President’s) heaping of personal – not fact-based –  insults” on Zarate.

Zarate said what Duterte did was a “diversionary tactic” of the former mayor of this city, “purposely made to divert the issues of incompetence, continued corruption amidst wanton poverty of our people.”

He said the President’s move was “also calibrated to pave the way for heightened attacks that will lead to silence us and stifle the voice of dissent especially in Congress.”

Last month, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, vice chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) told CNN Philippines that asking the Commission on Elections to disqualify the Makabayan bloc from the electoral process in 2022 is an option.  In the NTF’s press conference after the third Senate committee hearing on red-tagging on December 1, Esperon said: “we have firmed up our move and we will do that… you can be sure that we will go towards that direction as soon as possible.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)