QCPD social media team gets 'reminder' for linking community pantries to rebels

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
QCPD social media team gets 'reminder' for linking community pantries to rebels
Residents wanting to pick up some vegetables and other goods at the Maginhawa community pantry queue along the sidewalk of Maginhawa Sreet in Quezon City before dawn on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Quezon City police said Tuesday it would "remind" its social media staff to be more circumspect after the police district came under fire for sharing posts baselessly accusing community pantries of being linked to communist rebels.

The 'community pantry' of essential goods has been the subject of headlines for most of Tuesday after the first pantry to be set up in Maginhawa suspended operations over fears of the safety of its volunteers. Other pantries have also reported harassment from state forces, whether profiling from the police or red-tagging on social media.

In a separate statement sent to reporters, the Quezon City Police District, which has jurisdiction over a number of pantries that reported harassment, apologized for its posts on social media and assured Ana Patricia Non, the organizer of the Maginhawa community pantry, of "safety and protection."

"QCPD does not and will never allow alleged red-tagging...We are now reaching out with the organizer/outlet manager as the QCPD is very much willing to support the noble cause especially in this time of pandemic," Police Brig. Gen. Antonio Yarra, QCPD director, said. 

"As social media handlers maintain official social media platforms, the QCPD leadership reminded them to be more circumspect and sensitive in their functions to protect the interest of the people and to sincerely serve the public."

RELATED: Dura 'Likes': PNP social media rules and what police actually post

Police leadership earlier said that the practice of red-tagging was unauthorized within the agency and that any erring officers would face disciplinary sanctions. 

PNP Memorandum Circular No. 2020-034, which prescribes guidelines on social media content and usage from PNP personnel, urges social media handlers in the agency to:

  • Ensure that all posts are not libelous, do not trigger cyber-bullying, and do not violate the Data Privacy Act and Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines. 
  • Ensure that all posts shall not disclose confidential information detrimental to the safety of any individual. 
  • Ensure that all posts shall not be inimical to the interest of the organization and to the (sic.) national security. 

"Any PNP personnel who violates any of the General Guidelines of this MC shall be charged with Less Grave Neglect of Duty. However, if the act also constitutes a violation of law, he/she shall be charged for such act," the document later reads.  

Over the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippine National Police has consistently posted content vilifying and red-tagging activists, government critics and even registered party-list lawmakers on its official social media accounts, none of which has been acknowledged by police leadership. 

Although QCPD and the PNP routinely claim not to support the practice in the aftermath of high-profile cases, other instances that do not go viral are plentiful, and red-tagging content is a common occurrence on the PNP's social media pages to this day. 

READ: PNP chief: We do not authorize red-tagging

CHR reminds gov't: Profiling of community pantry organizers an 'overreach' and 'abuse of power'

The Commission on Human Rights in a separate statement issued later that day condemned the harassment and red-tagging of volunteers organizing community pantries to feed the hungry amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a statement sent to reporters, the CHR expressed concern over numerous reports of pantry organizers being placed "under the threat of profiling and surveillance by local law enforcement authorities and are subject to red-tagging across various accounts in social media."

The commission pointed out that even official government social media pages shared graphics linking the community pantry initiatives to the communist movement. 

"We remind the government, particularly local law enforcement officers, that collecting data, including the affiliation of community pantry organizers, is an encroachment upon the right to privacy of citizens and represents yet again an overreach and abuse of police power bereft of any statutory or legal basis," CHR said. 

"The community pantry is an example of the exemplary spirit of bayanihan to make-up for the gaps of government action in addressing the long-term adverse effects of the pandemic. The shameful and politicking actions of the few ideologically bent, however, has dimmed the hopes of many that have come to see the community pantries as means of sustenance to provide food for themselves and their families."

Both the PNP and the DILG have denied that orders to keep watch on community pantries were ever issued, even as a number of local government units, including Manila City, Quezon City, and Valenzuela City, have vowed to protect the organizers from harassment at the hands of police and other authorities. 

PNP warned vs profiling

New York-based Human Rights Watch said that "the government is weaponizing the ‘red-tagging’ to instill fear among the general public that is increasingly agitated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Even the National Privacy Commission and the Department of Justice have reminded local authorities to be judicious in their collection of personal data, reminding police that the latter must be done "with respect to the rights of a data subject, including the rights to be informed and object." 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said community pantry organizers “have no legal duty or are under any compulsion to fill out any forms, as these are not considered business, much less illegal activities.”

Progressive groups have slammed the government's push back towards the pantries, with rights group Karapatan calling the initiatives a "damning indictment of the Duterte government’s criminal negligence of people’s rights and welfare." 

"It the midst of despair, let not the actions of the few prevail. We must continue efforts to build trust between one another. In the end, let trust and peace among our communities prevail as we weather this pandemic," CHR said. 

with reports from Kristine Joy Patag




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