Climate and Environment

Red-tagging used to harass, threaten IPs opposed to gov't-backed projects — groups

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Red-tagging used to harass, threaten IPs opposed to gov't-backed projects � groups
A man arrives at a shallow part of Agos River, where the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System is planning to build a dam.
Philstar.com/EC Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine authorities are using red-tagging to intimidate indigenous peoples opposed to government-backed projects that will threaten their lives and livelihoods, groups said on Thursday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said that red-tagging—or the practice of labeling individuals and organizations as fighters or supporters of the communist armed struggle—has often proved deadly and put indigenous communities at risk.

“Indigenous communities have the right to peacefully express their views and protect their land and cultural heritage without fear of violence or death,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

Data from Panaghiusa, a broad network of indigenous peoples’ groups, showed that 126 cases of extrajudicial killings of leaders and members of indigenous communities were recorded from 2016 to 2021.

“All of those indigenous leaders and civilians or their groups experienced red-tagging at least at one point,” said Prince Turtugo, national coordinator of Panaghiusa.

The harassment and attacks against indigenous peoples contribute to making the Philippines the deadliest country in Asia for land and environmental defenders.


Beverly Longid, national convenor of Katribu, suspects that her work, particularly bringing indigenous peoples’ issues before the United Nations Human Rights Council, has made her a prime target of harassment.

“We are always watching our backs,” she said.

Indigenous rights activists have been also harassed through the court system, with politically-motivated cases of defamation, terrorism, and common crimes filed against them. HRW cited the cyber-liber charge against Sarah Dekdeken and murder charges against Windel Bolinget, who are both indigenous leaders from the Cordillera.

The watchdog noted that project proponents often work closely with the police and military to secure control over project areas, and organize rival indigenous groups to serve as a foil against those criticizing these projects by claiming to represent the entire community.

Red-tagging has been also used to exclude dissenting indigenous communities from the requirement of “free, prior and informed consent.” The implementation of the FPIC process in the country has been criticized by groups such as the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) as weak.

Turtogo said that red-tagging usually occurs in ancestral lands with impending or existing projects, citing the cases of Kaliwa Dam in the Sierra Madre mountain range, the Gened Dam in Apayao, and the OceanaGold mining project in Nueva Vizcaya.

According to a 2022 report of LRC, environmentally destructive projects such as large-scale mining and logging are threatening half of indigenous territories in the Philippines.

Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, also said that organizing communities has become difficult because of red-tagging.

HRW called on the Marcos administration to issue a clear directive to stop red-tagging and take appropriate action against those responsible.

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