How activists respond to being tagged as rebels

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
How activists respond to being tagged as rebels
In this March 16, 2018 photo, militant group Anakpawis holds a protest in front of the Department of Justice.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, File

MANILA, Philippines — The term "red-tagging" is being used more often in recent months, possibly because the practice has increased.

In 2019 alone, at least a hundred national and community-based organizations and “numerous” individuals have been red-tagged, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights monitor Karapatan, told Philstar.com.

She added more individuals have been subjects of red-tagging since Duterte signed Executive Order 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

Palabay stressed that the escalation of violence against those tagged makes red-tagging a “dangerous scheme.”

"Red-tagging by government forces incite violence on these persons and communities and also lays the pretext or justification for worse violations," she said, adding that red-tagging is usually followed by threats through electronic or physical means, surveillance and harassment, arbitrary or illegal arrest and detention, and torture.

In some cases, red-tagging also translates to enforced disappearances and even killings, a danger that the Commission on Human Rights acknowledged in April.

“Labelling groups before an objective judgment violates the constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and may have serious implications on the security and movement of individuals and groups involved,” lawyer Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, said.

Philippine jurisprudence defines red-tagging as "the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy… by state agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies’ of the state."

In a television interview in August, Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares—himself also repeatedly red-tagged—stressed that criticizing the government, or even agreeing with the CPP-NPA on certain issues, is not the same thing as taking up arms against the government.

"You don't lump the opposition with armed combatants just because they espouse similar issues," he said then.

But aside from condemning the practice in through protests, press releases, and social media posts, what are activists doing in response to being labelled as communist rebels or rebel sympathizers?

Police protection?

Red-tagged individuals and organizations are advised to document accounts of the incidents. If they can, they should identify perpetrators and include photos and videos.

They may also file blotter reports or hold dialogues with barangay officials or police officers to put incidents on the record and for their safety.

“But since local government officials and cops are also most often known in communities as having close links with the military perpetrators or are themselves involved in red-tagging, there is general distrust of these authorities and thus strong hesitation to file reports with them,” Palabay said.

During a Senate inquiry into the string of killings in Negros Island in August, it was revealed that five of the 15 people tagged as supporters of the New People’s Army in flyers earlier distributed by alleged anti-communist group Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista had been killed.  

Several people on the list, including slain human rights lawyer Anthony Trinidad, had approached the police to clear their names when the flyers came out in 2018 and asked for police protection.

Trinidad was gunned down by two motorcycle-riding assailants in July.

Filing complaints

The Karapatan secretary-general also said that red-tagged people may file complaints at the Commission on Human Rights and the country’s Joint Monitoring Committee—the body tasked to monitor and investigate human rights abuses of security forces and communist rebels.

Last March, Karapatan and church organization Rural Missionaries of the Philippines filed separate complaints at the CHR and the JMC over incidents of red-tagging and terrorist-labeling of these organizations. They stressed that these attacks put the lives and liberty of their organizations’ members at “grave risk.”

The alleged deterioration of the situation for human rights defenders in the country also prompted Karapatan, RMP and women’s group Gabriela to file petitions for the writ of amparo and habeas data before the Supreme Court in May over the state's perceived tagging of their members as legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition in June, saying there is no substantial evidence to establish the petitioner’s allegations.

Palabay also stressed the need for individuals and organizations to develop their own security mechanisms and protocols.

“We can also only surmise that there are more cases that remain undocumented and unreported due to the worsening climate of impunity in the communities,” she said.

'Making noise' on social media 

Social media is also a platform for red-tagged citizens to expose wrongdoings.

"Most often, social media is instead used by some to make the public aware of these incidents and issues," Palabay said.

The public can also share information on the red-tagging incidents and urge authorities to stop their schemes, she added.

"They can also call out misinformation from government [officials] who are falsely labelling these individuals and organizations. They should demand protection for these individuals and organizations," the Karapatan officer said.

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