MANILA, Philippines — The government should not be afraid of women supporting each other, Gabriela Women's Party said Thursday in response to a veiled threat that a military general gave Kapamilya actress Liza Soberano for joining a webinar on women's issues that Gabriela organized.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., commander of the military's Southern Luzon Command and an outspoken member of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, had urged Soberano to "abdicate" from the group after she gave a talk at one of its seminars saying she might end up dead.
"How come these macho-fascists have the audacity to mansplain strong women and lecture them on what to do? And why do they seem so afraid of women using their platform to defend other women?" Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Party-List) said.
"These rabid NTF-ELCAC executives are using their rehashed script to discredit Gabriela Women's Party despite our long track record of advocating women's rights," she also said.
According to an article by the Sooknyung Women's University published in the academic journal Asian Women, mansplaining is defined as and "indicates a social phenomenon in which men attempt to force women to internalize the discrediting of their abilities and the dismissal of their opinions and feelings–by minimizing women’s abilities, men who mansplain instead celebrate and consolidate their own power and positions in society."
This is not the first time the NTF-ELCAC has accused women linked to Gabriela Women's Party of being communist rebels. Earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lorraine Badoy accused Sister Mary John Mananzan, OSB, a nun who is Gabriela chairperson emerita, of being a "leader for life" of Gabriela, which she called a "communist terrorist group."
Brosas said Thursday that "Parlade’s appeal to stop red-tagging Liza Soberano is starkly ironic because he actually red-tagged Soberano in his same statement. By saying that Soberano is 'not yet an NPA,' he is maliciously associating the actress with the armed movement when what she did in the youth forum was to only speak up for all the victims of gender-based violence and abuse."
Support for and membership in an activist group does not mean support for or membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines or the New People's Army but the government has been pushing this narrative as early as 2017, when President Rodrigo Duterte accused transport group Piston, human rights group Karapatan and labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno of committing rebellion.
"It is clear that Parlade, the NTF-ELCAC, and the paid trolls are the ones who are rabidly red-tagging Liza Soberano and other female celebrities and influencers who are taking a stand and speaking out against the macho-fascism under the Duterte regime," she added.
On more than one occasion, the NTF-ELCAC, which routinely accuses activist groups critical of the Duterte administration of being affiliated with the New People's Army, has been caught spreading disinformation.
A number of its posts red-tagging dissenting groups and voices are still up on its official social media channels.
For Brosas, that Parlade was emboldened enough to speak on Soberano's activities is as much an issue of gender as it is red-tagging.
'You will suffer the same fate'
Parlade warned Soberano that she would share the fate of Josephine Anne Lapira, a 22-year-old student from UP Manila who was killed in a shootout between the military and suspected members of New People's Army in Batangas, in 2017.
Although Parlade acknowledged that the actress "is merely supporting advocacy for women's rights," the general also said that Soberano "is not yet" a member of the NPA.
He also accused the party-list, which has a representative at the House, of being an underground mass organization with a "hidden violent agenda."
"Liza Soberano, there's still a chance to abdicate that group. If you don't, you will suffer the same fate as Josephine Anne Lapira @ELLA, former Deputy Secretary-General of Gabriela Youth of UP," Parlade also 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.’”
The Commission on Human Rights has also issued a warning against the practice of red-tagging, which it said "violates the constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and may have serious implications on the security and movement of individuals and groups involved."
Soberano hailed for advocacy
In a separate statement, Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) lauded Soberano for her outspokenness on social issues, particularly the abuse that women and children face.
"We admire Liza's courage and for speaking up against the abuses faced by women and children. We hope that she would continue this advocacy and see the broader picture of what problems and faces of oppression are faced by many," Zarate said.
"As for those attacking and red-tagging Liza, it is not wrong to speak up for the marginalized and (exploited). What is wrong though is keeping silent against it or ignore others who are committing them. We should never be indifferent to injustice," ended he also said.
In an earlier Philstar.com story, Prof. Vladimeir Gonzales, a scholar on fan and pop culture and Filipino literature, said that the recent phenomenon of social media influencers driving discourse on national discourse has been amplified amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"The divide among influencers is becoming clear: Those who are ready to engage their audience and society in dialogue and those who remain agents to silence and spread the fantasy of a peaceful life—in the midst of a crisis and abuse," he said then in Filipino. "I hope everyone who has influence is ready to help guide their followers to safety even if there is a risk of losing followers or of going off their usual branding."
In a separate statement, Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights group Karapatan, stressed that all people should be free to air their views,
"Whether you’re a Liza Soberano or a Maria dela Cruz, you have a right to express your thoughts, your dissent, your passions, free from intimidation from govrenment. It is laudable though that personalities promote social causes, including women and girls’ rights, that they believe in," she said in a tweet.
'Red-tagging can bring violence to persons'
At the Senate’s hearing on the budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office on October 13, senators acknowledged that being accused of having ties to the New People's Army puts people at risk of violence.
Sen. Richard Gordon pointed out that the Anti-Subversion Law, which outlaws membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines, has long been repealed.
"[T]here would be no discussion, if we put people in a category, he never grows and that’s what's wrong about red-tagging. Because when you use that strategy, you are actually refusing to listen to them or you’re asking people not to listen to them, or you’re telling them that they’re in violation of the law," he said, claiming that those who are labelled as "pro-administration" or "pro-US" suffer a similar fate.
"Red-tagging is worse because of the current atmosphere that you know it might bring violence onto the persons tagged as active members of the communist party, that’s the worry," Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III replied. He added that people identified as being pro-US do not face that.