Red-tagging has direct harms on its targets, but it also has far-reaching consequences that endangers the rest of us.
In recent weeks, the Philippines has seen growing anti-communist rhetoric and red-tagging incidents instigated by the administration’s pawns, namely Lt. General Antonio Parlade, spokesperson of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), Philippine National Police Chief Debold Sinas, and Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, among others. The targets cover a large quantity of personalities, including elected officials such as Rep. Carlos Zarate and Rep. Sarah Elago (both of which are members of the Makabayan Bloc, an oppositionist coalition), as well as activists from GABRIELA, League of Filipino Students, and National Union of Students of the Philippines. Even celebrities Liza Soberano, Catriona Gray, and Angel Locsin were not exempt from red-tagging sponsored by the state itself.
The accusations were mostly baseless, reductive, and, frankly, pointless to dive into, as the evidence presented are too loose to build a solid case. In the senate hearings, Parlade’s faction have used a dated interview with Joma Sison, a prominent communist figure who is now in exile in Netherlands, and statements from communist defectors, as well as file photos and videos sourced from years ago in an effort to establish direct associations between activists and opposition politicians and the CPP-NPA. None of them hold water. For one, the statements are simply statements, and without corroboration with material evidence, they remain as such. The same applies for photos and videos; anyone can have these with political figures who are always on the road, and they are not equivalent to any form of material support. In fact, if photos and videos are enough proof, then Duterte, who has photos with the CPP-NPA prior to his election in 2016, should also be included in the military’s roster.
However, what’s clear is that Duterte’s pawns in the military are using the anticommunist crusade to shape public opinion toward their faction’s favor. They have been using social media pages of the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines, influencers, and pro-Duterte bloggers to drum up the campaign. They have even casted influence over mainstream media organizations, who are picking up and airing Senate hearings on their online pages from start to finish without annotation and commentary, publishing articles and quote cards, and conducting interviews with officials involved in the scheme. The public, meanwhile, has grown polarized between being pro- and anti-government, or pro– and anti–communist rebels.
The cases of red-tagging then are not surprising, as they weaken an already downtrodden opposition. Linking personalities and sympathizers of the political left with communist groups adds to the crushing weight that it has carried in the past four years. Based on assessment, red-tagging activists, journalists, and human rights advocates poses danger, as it puts in peril the lives and liberty of those involved. But more than that, red-tagging these individuals has far-reaching effects on those not involved because of the damage it inflicts on society as a whole.
Danger #1: Red-tagging has a chilling effect on people.
Taking into consideration red-tagging alone, many of those who simply want to exercise their freedom of speech are muffled from fear of being identified as a sympathizer of armed rebellion. In an increasingly volatile public sphere, those who wish to point out flaws in the system and policies of the government end up choosing to be silent. As a consequence, a spiral of silence may emerge and the wounds in society may remain unaddressed.
The corrective: The onus in this scenario lies on the state, as they must be the primary agent in upholding the democratic rights enshrined in the very core of our society. They must allow people to speak freely without fear of the consequences that may arise from expressing criticisms. After all, criticisms are beneficial in constructing a more just and humane society as they point the government toward areas that need better attention.
Danger #2: It leads to the stagnation of social causes that will be beneficial for the public.
Historically, activists and human rights advocates are in the frontline of advancing important humanitarian causes such as just wages, worker’s welfare, women’s and LGBT+ rights, and peasant folk advocacies, among others. These are issues that affect society as a whole. But the threats to the lives and liberties of activists and human rights advocates push many off the streets and force them to choose between silence and revolting through a form of armed resistance.
The corrective: It is the state’s duty to take care of its citizens in exchange for compliance with enforced laws and regulations. When this contract is broken by the people, the state has the power to police these violations. However, it is tantamount to social injustice when it is the state itself that turns its back on the said laws. This injustice twists the arms of people and becomes the root cause of activism and armed rebellion. For this to be mended, the solution is simple: Address the issues in society and engage the political opposition in building policies that will be beneficial for the common good.
Danger #3: Red-tagging endangers the lives and liberty of its targets.
There is a basic principle in our constitution that states that no one shall be deprived of their life or liberty without due process nor shall they be denied the equal protection of the laws. This very clause is violated when a law enforcer or government official red-tags a person as it exposes them to public humiliation and violence. As Rep. Sarah Elago puts it, “Marami ang nabiktima muna ng red-tagging bago sila napaslang o nagkaroon ng gawa-gawang kaso at ngayon ay nakakulong” (Many were exposed first to red-tagging before getting murdered or getting charged with trumped-up cases and ending up in jail). This is most obvious in the murders of Atty. Ben Ramos, a human rights lawyer, and Zara Alvarez, a social activist, and the arrests of peasant organizer Amanda Echanis, daughter of slain activist Randy Echanis, in Cagayan last week and Reina Mae Nasino, also a human rights worker, in 2019. Both Echanis and Nasino were arrested in the wee hours of the night, and were accused of harboring illegal weapons in their homes.
The corrective: Instead of publicly exposing activists and violating their constitutional rights, the state must uphold the law and respect the judicial process. The unjust persecution and cold-blooded killing of these figures will not diminish the rise of activism in the country. On the contrary, it may only push more people to join anti-government movements. As Sister Mary John Mananzan, a clergy activist from Manila, said, “[If you thought that] you will break the movement, you will break dissent, by persecuting — you are very much mistaken. You are just putting gasoline on this combustible material.”
Danger #4: Red-tagging may lead to more conflict than peace.
Aside from endangering the lives of targets, red-tagging also puts a fracture between the people. Those who understand the roots of activism and armed conflict fall on one side while those who firmly believe in the government’s actions fall on the other. Instead of uniting the people under one goal and building a just and humane society, red-tagging pushes these two groups further apart.
“Red-tagging sponsors discrimination and exclusion,” Rep. Elago said. “Mapanira na bagay sa gusto nating makamit na peace sa ating bansa” (It’s a destructive thing against the peace that we want to achieve for our nation).
The corrective: Rep. Elago added that the bedrock of peace is inclusivity and respect for human rights — two factors that are part of the calls of activists in the country. For peace to be achieved with armed rebels, the state can opt to reignite peace talks just like what was done in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM); it was a long and fraught civil war between the state and armed rebels, but peace was achieved by consolidating the demands of both ends.
In the absence of peace efforts, insurgency will only continue. Protests will keep on surging, and activism will not die out. This show of force to silence the opposition should have no place in the Philippines considering the critical role the opposition plays in influencing policies. Tagging progressives as terrorists and terrorist-sympathisers are also detrimental to democracy and the different facets of society. After all, revolutions will not exist if there is nothing to revolt about; nobody takes up arms simply for the heck of it. There is always a deeper cause.