Climate and Environment

Green groups urge CHR to probe 'red-tagging' by military, SMNI

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Green groups urge CHR to probe 'red-tagging' by military, SMNI
Logo of Commission on Human Rights
Commission on Human Rights

MANILA, Philippines — A coalition of environmental defenders called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to condemn an Army battalion and the Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) for publicly accusing their network of having ties with communist rebels.

Red-tagging, the practice of labeling individuals or organizations of being communist rebels or sympathizers, has been linked to threats, harassment, and even killings of activists in the Philippines.

In a complaint letter filed Monday, the Environmental Defenders Congress (ENVIDEFCON) requested CHR Chairperson Richard Palpal-latoc to censure the "red-tagging" of the Philippine Army's 80th Infantry Battalion (IB) and the SMNI against their coalition.

ENVIDEFCON also asked the commission to investigate the "red-tagging" incidents and urge the Armed Forces of the Philippines to halt the practice.

"As your office knows only too well, the practice of red-tagging not only infringes upon the democratic rights of those targeted but also poses a direct threat to their safety," the coalition said.

"This tactic of undermining a group or individual's legitimate work by arbitrarily and baselessly associating them with illegal, so-called 'terrorist' activities and groups is effectively a way of silencing or discrediting dissent or opposition," it added.

ENVIDEFCON is a coalition of 37 environmental defenders groups.

'Red-tagging' incidents

The "red-tagging" incidents stemmed from a Facebook post by ENVIDEFCON about the reported increase of military presence in Brgy. San Isidro and neighboring barangays in Rodriguez, Rizal. These communities are affected by the construction of the Wawa-Violago dam projects.

The P26-billion Wawa Bulk Water Supply Project is being developed by the Razon-led Prime Infrastructure Capital Inc. and Violago-owned San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders and Developers Group.

The dam aims to supply water to Metro Manila and Rizal, and seeks to mitigate recurring floods in the lower areas of Rizal, Marikina City and Pasig City.

On February 2, the 80th IB alleged that the ENVIDEFCON's post was a propaganda and misinformation, and linked the coalition to the "ideology" of the "terrorist" Communist Party of the Philippines.

A few days later, SMNI hosts Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey "Ka Eric" Celiz reiterated the accusations against ENVIDEFCON during a livestreamed talk show.

International human rights group Global Witness documented 281 killings of environmental and land defenders between 2012 and 2022, with ENVIDEFCON highlighting that many were victims of "red-tagging" prior to their deaths.

Current and former United Nations special rapporteurs Irene Khan and Ian Fry have condemned the systemic red-tagging of environmental defenders and other activists.

Protecting Sierra Madre ENVIDEFCON also asked the CHR to recommend the pull-out of the 80th IB from Rodriguez town due to reported militarization in the area.

The coalition stressed that Dumagat and urban poor communities in Rizal are "environmental defenders vehemently opposing dam and energy projects not for the sake of 'terrorism' but in a bid to protect the delicate ecosystems of the Sierra Madre mountain range."

Sierra Madre, the country's longest mountain range, is vital for biodiversity and climate resilience. It absorbs and stores carbon dioxide, serves as habitat for diverse flora and fauna, and acts as a buffer during cyclones.

"In the fight against climate change and environmental devastation, the safety and well-being of our country's brave environmental defenders stands as the utmost priority," ENVIDEFCON said.

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