Congress suspends approval of PCOO budget over Badoy’s dangerous ‘red-tagging’

Presidential Communications  Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy with PCOO chief Martin Andanar <i>Photo: Lorraine Badoy / FB</i>
Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy with PCOO chief Martin Andanar Photo: Lorraine Badoy / FB

The House of Representatives yesterday suspended hearings on the proposed budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), the government’s information arm, because Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy accused several lawmakers of being affiliated with communist rebels.

The notorious practice, better known in the Philippines as red-tagging, is one that many rights groups consider dangerous and life-threatening. The Human Rights Defender Protection Act prohibits people including the government from red-tagging individuals.

Read: Novelist Lualhati Bautista *literally* shuts down troll claiming she’s a communist rebel

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said it was insulting for Badoy to ask for the agency’s PHP1.59 billion (US$32.7 million) budget when the undersecretary kept spreading false rumors about him and his party-list being high-ranking members of the Communist Party of the Philippines on social media just this week.

“If it is so easy for this unelected official to accuse nationally elected officials then suddenly ask for a budget here, then Mr. Chair, we cannot allow that. This is not only an affront to us, but I think this is an affront to the institution,” an irate Zarate said in English and Filipino during the Committee on Appropriations’ hearing.

“I take offense that she is using her position, using government funds, to attack our person and encourage the trolls to attack not only our person but even our family,” he added, reminding the PCOO that labeling someone a communist or terrorist is deathly dangerous for the accused individual, citing activist Zara Alvarez as an example.

Read: Human rights activist shot dead in Bacolod City

“[Alvarez] was shot. Her face was in a tarpaulin, she was red-tagged, and you cannot just say, Ms. Badoy, that your red-tagging will have no cause or implication, you have to be responsible for your postings,” Zarate said.

Alvarez was the 13th human rights worker belonging to the group Karapatan who was killed during the Duterte administration.

Photo: Screengrab from Lorraine Badoy / FB

Earlier this week, Badoy shared on Facebook the post above where she claimed that the Makabayan bloc members should resign from office because they were allegedly “high ranking members of the Communist Party of the Philippines” who guide its armed wing, the New People’s Army “to destroy the government and kill democracy.”

Badoy’s post included photos of Zarate and fellow Bayan Muna Representatives Eufemia Cullamat and Ferdinand Gaite, along with Representatives Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, France Castro of ACT-CIS, and Sarah Jane Elago of Kabataan.

“I hope this committee will take decisive action on this, and we will take serious consideration on the budget of PCOO if its funds will only be used for attacking, red-tagging, terrorist-tagging,” Zarate said.

PCOO chief Martin Andanar insisted that the agency did not create Badoy’s post but that she was only using the government’s resources in distributing them. He added that Badoy’s Facebook posts are her personal views, and not of PCOO’s.

“I cannot imagine not having any budget to help to disseminate the correct information to our people to avoid COVID-19,” he said.

Committee chair and ACT-CIS Representative Eric Yap, ruled to suspend the proceedings, shortly after bringing up issues on the agency’s labor practices, such as the lack of hazard pay and its failure to provide protective gear to its staff.

Read: Duterte offers PHP2 million reward for capture of communist rebels

Makabayan bloc meanwhile, is eyeing to file charges against Badoy.

Badoy, who didn’t get a chance to speak at the hearing, insisted on social media yesterday that Makabayan should stop complaining about her dangerous practices and claimed that there was “no evidence that being lumped with commies is a threat to your life.”

She said this despite Amnesty International’s urging of the Duterte government to stop red-tagging and to investigate activist killings. President Rodrigo Duterte has on several occasions threatened to “shoot dead” and “bury” communist rebels, even placing a PHP2 million (US$39,700) bounty for their capture.

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