Activism and taking up arms vs government are different things, CHR stresses
Undated photo shows Filipinos protesting the then anti-terrorism bill.
AFP/Aileen Dimatatac

Activism and taking up arms vs government are different things, CHR stresses

Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - December 1, 2020 - 3:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday stressed that activists using legal means of advocacy and protest should not be included in "sweeping generalizations" as those who take up arms against the government.

CHR, which has been cautioning against the practice of red-tagging, once again advised the government against labelling individuals or groups as rebels or enemies of the state.

"The CHR does not really delve into who is communist or not. That is something we are clear about. We would just like to caution the government against making sweeping generalizations because they endanger lives," lawyer and CHR spokesperson Jacqueline De Guia said in an interview on ANC’s "Headstart."

De Guia said there must be a delineation between people who have taken up arms or joined the armed struggle and the individuals who have not. 

“If they are using legal means such as, for example, joining political the arena as a party-list, then clearly that is not taking up arms against the government,” she said.

The CHR official also stressed that there is “nothing wrong” with being a leftist, a position also taken by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra amid calls in 2019 to revive the Anti-Subversion Law outlawing being a communist. The law was repealed in the 1990s.

"The reason why we’re speaking up on these issues is that because we’ve seen over the past few years that constitutional rights are being challenged," De Guia said.

"[W]e would like to emphasize the difference between exercising your freedoms which are guaranteed in the Constitution and say, for example, activism, which is a necessary consequence of, for example, asserting our rights, and from the armed movement and from terrorism. These are clearly distinct things,” De Guia said.

Duterte claims communist conspiracy

In a televised briefing Monday evening, President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at activists groups anew during his weekly address to the nation on the coronavirus situation in the Philippines.

“These are legal fronts of communists, all of them. Makabayan, Bayan, they are all legal fronts, Gabriela,” Duterte said.

“We are not red-tagging you. We are identifying you as members in a grand conspiracy comprising all the legal that you have organized headed by the NDF (National Democratic Front), the New People’s Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines,” the president added.

The president, in 2017, said that there was a conspiracy between the Liberal Party and the Communist Party of the Philippines to remove him from power.

"What is really very clear is ‘yung Left, pati ang kaalyado ng Left… ‘yung mga dilaw. Gusto nila ako paalisin dito sa Malacañang (even the Left, the ally of the Left is the yellows. They want me out of Malacañang)," he said then.

He said that same year that jeepney drivers striking against a government plan to replace their units with modern ones and other activist groups are part of  "one big conspiracy but they are at the same time—all of them—are committing right now rebellion." 

‘From smear campaigns to physical attacks’

Karapatan, in a statement Tuesday, said that red-tagging is “harmful and patently dangerous” as it translates into extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal or arbitrary arrests, detention, fake or forced surrenders and other human rights

In a communication sent to the Philippine government in September, United Nations independent experts expressed concern over the killings of urban poor activist Carlito Badion in May and human rights worker Zara Alvarez in August. Both were red-tagged before they were killed.

“The killing of human rights defenders often follows a pattern of escalating threats. In a large number of cases, these can be witnessed beginning with smear and defamation campaigns, both offline and online, fueled by hate speech undermining the crucial human rights work that defenders carry out,” the UN experts said.

“This stigmatization subsequently grows, and with its growth human rights defenders become exposed, to an ever more serious degree, to physical attacks,” they added.

The UN special rapporteurs included Mary Lawlor (situation of human rights defenders), Agnes Callamard (extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions), Balakrishnan Rajagopal (adequate housing) and Elizabeth Broderick (working group on discrimination against women and girls).

Karapatan said such forms of repression and attacks against dissenters should stop.

“These do not only lead to a worse climate of impunity in the country: these acts of State terrorism also seek to cover-up the administration’s incompetence, negligence and irresponsible governance that has failed to address poverty, landlessness, joblessness, among many other root causes of the armed conflict in the country,” it said.

Duterte’s remarks against activist groups come in the wake of the outrage prompted by the photograph of soldiers who posed with the dead body of Jevilyn Cullamat, the youngest daughter of Rep. Eufemia Cullamat (Bayan Muna) who was killed in an encounter with government troops.

The Senate is also conducting a hearing on the government’s red-tagging, a practice that the security sector prefers to call "truth tagging."

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