Saying goodbye to a year of intensified red-tagging, but no signs it will stop

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers a speech during the Office of the President Christmas Party at the Malacañan Palace on December 18, 2019. SIMEON CELI JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Red-tagging is “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy…by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State’.” (Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in the 2105 court case Zarate vs. Aquino III [G.R. No. 220028])

The usual victims of “red-tagging” are leaders and members or the people’s organizations, progressive party-lists, peasant organizations, worker unions, human rights advocates or organizations, churches or religious groups, health worker organizations, teacher unions organizations, the academe, student organizations, and the mainstream and progressive media.

They are labeled as “communists” or “terrorists” because they are critical of the Philippine government’s anti-people policies and programs. The labelled individuals are vulnerable to death threats and in the human rights history and record of the past and present administrations, can be summarily executed.

President Rodrigo Duterte formalized or legalized “red-tagging” when he declared that the CPP-NPA is “a terrorist organization under the Philippines Human Security Act of 2007 (Republic Act 9372) in 2017,” Vera Files said.

The “individuals and organizations who have been red-tagged are vulnerable to interception and recording of communication, detention without charges, restricted travel and personal liberties, examination of bank records, and the seizure and sequestration of their assets,” Vera Files added.

Red-tagging has been used by the state forces to harass and intimidate progressive organizations, party-lists and churches. When Duterte issued on November 23, 2017, the Proclamation No. 360, which formally terminated the peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP), the vilification, especially those who supported the peace talks, has intensified.

The red-tagging further intensified when in December 2018, Duterte issued Executive Order 70 that institutionalized the government’s “counter-insurgency program” through the National or Regional or Municipal or Barangay Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF-ELCAC).

These task forces are composed of national government departments or agencies, local government unit leaders and “civil society” groups (government organizations, non-government organizations, anti-communist groups or vigilantes) as an expression of “whole-of-nation approach” against underground revolutionary organizations.

The whole-of-nation approach is the synchronization of the “plans and programs to combat insurgency” by the barangay leaders, mayors, civil society groups, including national and local government heads who want to address “the roots of communist insurgency” in the country with emphasis on the information and communication campaign that resulted to vilification or red-tagging of the “enemies of the state.”

The “enemies of the state” started during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Her Oplan Bantay Laya, Benjie Oliveros of Bulatlat in 2006 wrote, “equates the underground organizations of the CPP-NPA-NDFP with what it calls ‘sectoral front organizations’. Its intelligence operations are focused on these ‘sectoral front organizations’ and it treats these organizations as military targets subject to ‘neutralization’.

Latter documents refer to the slide presentation ‘Knowing the Enemy’ and the book ‘Trinity of War’ produced by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) as basis for identifying these ‘sectoral front organizations.’  This slide presentation was the subject of controversy as it identifies not only legal left parties and organizations as front organizations but also media groups such as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and religious organizations such as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP),” Philippine Independent Church (PIC), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and United Methodist Church (UMC).

Oliveros added, “Oplan Bantay Laya provides for the formulation of sectoral ‘orders of battle’ to identify targets for neutralization with corresponding deadlines.”

The Oplan Bantay Laya has been renamed into Oplan Bayanihan of Nonoy Aquino and Oplan Kapayapaan, now Oplan Kapanatagan under Duterte.

Red-tagging is not new, but used to intensify the AFP’s “neutralization” campaign against the progressive organizations, party-lists, churches and religious organizations.

Red-tagging is a violation of the Philippine Constitution. The Philippines is a constitutional democracy where beliefs and political expressions are supposed to be protected and ensured. Undermining democratic space provided by the law of the country is stifling dissent, encouraging authoritarian practices and fascist rule.

Dissent is essential to a working democracy. Condemning the progressive organizations and party-lists, as the politics of the “communists” and therefore subject to neutralization is tantamount to accepting a dictatorial rule.

Suppressing and repressing the “voice of the people” represented by the progressive organizations, party-lists and churches is approving fascism and corruption. Silencing the people is working for dictatorship or military rule without even recognizing of a formal declaration of Martial law.

Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides that the President, as commander-in-chief, “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it” may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the country under martial law.

Martial law in Mindanao as experienced by the Moro people, indigenous peoples, leaders and members of the progressive organizations and party-lists is cruel and full of abuses. Checkpoints are set-up everywhere, houses and offices of suspected “rebels” tagged by the state forces were raided without immediately showing search warrants; guns, ammunitions and explosives were planted. Those who were illegally arrested and detained were mentally and physically tortured. Vilification paraphernalia are openly hung and disseminated in the urban centers. Anti-communist streamers were hung not only in public places but in the houses of those who were subjected of “red-tagging”.

Duterte announced that martial law in Mindanao will be lifted as the year ended. Progressive organizations are warning that in “exchange” of the lifting of martial law is the approval of the proposed amendments of the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 or Anti-Terror Law which the AFP through its spokesperson Brigadier General Edgar Arevalo in August 2019, saying that the AFP wants a ”tougher anti-terrorism law” than the present cruel HSA.

The AFP wants to remove a P500,000-fine for every day they detain a terror suspect who eventually gets acquitted by a judicial court.

The AFP wants to detain terror suspects without an arrest warrant for 30 days instead of just 3 days, to give them more time to gather evidence and build cases against the suspects.

The AFP also wants to tag individuals as terrorists based on their own offenses, whether or not they are linked to known terror groups, which the present HSA allowed groups, not individual persons, to be officially identified as terrorists.

The AFP also wants to penalize people who are recruiting members of tagged terrorists and providing “material support” to terrorists.

Furthermore, the AFP wants to penalize those people who are “glorifying” and “inciting” terrorism in public or on social media.

The 2019 will surely end. It is the year of intensified red-tagging, which the clergy and lay leaders of the Iglesia Filipina Indpendeinte (IFI) from Mindanao to Ilocos have been “red-tagged”, but it strengthened the resolve of the churches, progressive people organizations and party-lists to stand their ground. The leaders of the IFI even claimed that the “red-tagged is its badge of recognition” as a nationalist and pro-poor church.

Goodbye year 2019, but red-tagging will not stop as long as the Duterte regime see the critics of its anti-people and pro-foreign policies as an evil to their own interests in power.

A good and proper goodbye of the year 2019 is the determination of the broad coalition of people to uphold constitutional democracy and assert the right of the people to end a dictatorial rule.

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