As if people aren’t anxious about too many things already—job security, basic needs and health to name a few—citizens also need to bear the threat of red-tagging during a pandemic.
Red-tagging, according to human rights activists, is a scheme in which individuals are labeled as communists or terrorists, often without substantial proof. It’s also a way to silence activists. Being red-tagged can lead to warrantless arrests, torture, enforced disappearances or extrajudicial killings according to International Peace Observers Network. The danger in this tactic has heightened more now that the Anti-Terrorism Law is in the picture.
In case the people in power try to make us forget someday, here’s a list of individuals and groups red-tagged during this crisis.
Community pantry organizers
Less than a week after it was born, the Maginhawa community pantry had to temporarily shut down because of misconstrued intentions. “Malungkot po dahil hindi muna maipapamahagi ang goods na inihanda namin buong maghapon dahil po sa #RedTagging na nagaganap,” said organizer Ana Patricia Non in a Facebook post yesterday, April 19.
(It’s saddening that we cannot distribute the goods that we prepared the whole day because of the red-tagging that has been happening.)
Along with her statements are screenshots of posts showing how the National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict (NTF-Elcac) linked the pantry to communist groups, claiming that it was a tool to promote the CPP-NPA-NDF.
In a translated report by Washington Post reporter Regine Cabato from today’s press con, Non expressed her disappointment. “We find the government response lacking. People wouldn’t line up like this if they were getting enough. We’re not asking the government or people to understand or have the same political beliefs—I’m only asking for unity, and not to kill this effort to help each other out.”
Even the nicest of deeds filled with fruits and vegetables are dangerous for these people now, apparently.
This same month, the Department of Education (DepEd) drew flak for failing to defend teachers’ democracy. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said that Revsee Escobedo, DepEd undersecretary, had asked division offices to distribute a survey profiling the members of ACT or Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC). The reason? Nothing specific.
NTF-Elcac has been tagging ACT as a communist group, although they’ve failed to offer evidence, Inquirer reports
In February, ACT slammed NTF-Elcac for apparently associating the teachers’ union with CPP-NPA. “Doon sa kanilang presentasyon, PowerPoint, ilang beses binabanggit na ang Alliance of Concerned Teachers, kami ang unyon at iba pang organisasyong legal ay mga front ng [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army],” said Vladimir Quetua, ACT-NCR president.
(In their PowerPoint presentation, NTF-Elcac repeatedly claimed that ACT and other legal organizations are fronts of the [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.])
“Such distraction in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is indeed reprehensible,” said Emmanuel Layco, president of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) last January. This was after the university had cried foul over the military calling PLM a recruitment hub for communists. Layco described this as a “disservice” to the faculty, students and staff struggling during the crisis.
The University of the Philippines was also dubbed a hotbed of rebels. President Duterte said so himself.
“Sige. ‘Yung mga eskwelahan. UP? Fine. Maghinto kayo ng aral. I will stop the funding… Wala nang ginawa itong mga ano kundi mag-recruit ng komunista diyan. Tapos nag-aaral kayo ang gusto ninyo, binibira ang gobyerno. Masyado naman kaswerte kayo. Wag talaga kayong manakot rather kasi I will oblige you,” he threatened students in November 2020.
(Sure. University of the Philippines? Fine. Stop studying. I will stop the funding. All you do is recruit communists. Then you study and criticize the government. You are so lucky. Don’t threaten me, because I will oblige you.)
In a public address in November 2020, President Duterte spoke about the death of Jevilyn Cullamat, daughter of Bayan Muna Representative and indigenous Manobo tribe leader Eufemia Cullamat. The 22-year-old Jevilyn died during an encounter between the military and the New People’s Army (NPA) in Surigao Del Sur.
Before mentioning this, he didn’t spare groups like the Makabayan bloc from red-tagging. He called these “legal communist fronts.”
“Kayong mga Lumad, umuwi kayo. Sabihin ninyo sa mga tao ninyo na niloloko na lang sila… Niloloko ng NPA talaga. Totoo ‘yan.”
(You Lumads, go home. Tell your people that they are being deceived… They really are being deceived by the NPA. That’s the truth.)
Despite calls for protection, Indigenous peoples have been suffering trying to live through threats of school bombings and defending their lands from exploitation, among other things.
The Philippines is the second deadliest country in Asia for land rights defenders, as revealed by environment and human rights watchdog Global Witness.
These are just a few from a long list of folks stripped off humanity and robbed of security by irresponsible labeling. Instead of villainizing every citizen who speaks up, why can’t our leaders listen first? In this narrative, the people are definitely not the villains.
Art by Yel Sayo