In her complaint for malfeasance and misconduct against government officials who have red-tagged her, Sarah Elago points out how red-tagging or red-baiting, has long been part of the government’s strategy against critics. Indeed, as Nymia Pimentel Simbulan stated in a paper published in 2011, historically, red-baiting in the Philippines has taken many forms including – “the naming of specific ‘leftist’ NGOs, POs, trade unions, party-list groups, and individuals believed to be affiliated with the underground movement in public presentations made by the military in urban and rural poor communities, factories, and mass media, as part of its counterinsurgency activities.”
Definitely for indigenous peoples, red-tagging is an excuse for commercial interests to exploit the natural resources in ancestral lands and domains. Development aggression, for example, is behind these attacks against the Lumad in Mindanao and is now being raised in Central Luzon and Southern Luzon as Aetas and Dumagat tribes protest government projects that displace them.
One does not even have to belong to the left to be red-tagged. As one colleague from the University of the Philippines has, for example, pointed out, even Mayor Isko Moreno has been branded by trolls. According to this colleague, “A quick survey of headline YouTube videos reveals that two well-funded online prop machineries have united to target Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. The military wants to “out” Moreno as a “red sympathizer” for his ordering the removal of posters unwelcoming the CPP-NDF in Manila.”
The worst red-tagger of course is President Rodrigo Duterte. He has declared that members of the Makabayan bloc are part of a “grand conspiracy” to overthrow the government and even singled out fellow Mindanawon and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.
In an interview with Mindanews, I pointed out how dangerous this is as it can be interpreted by rogue military or police elements as open season on Congressman Zarate, a person I would absolutely vouch for and whom the President also knows personally. I told MindaNews that Duterte’s statements do not have any judicial or legal value as they are not based on evidence but from a practical point of view, it is a prejudgment by your chief enforcement official and so a violation of due process.
The Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) has weighed in also on this attack against Zarate:
“The insistent red tagging officially done by no less than the President poses a clear and present danger on the lives of Zarate and all human rights lawyers and defenders. We must always be warned of those red tagged and eventually murdered like Atty. Benjamin Ramos and Atty. Anthony Trinidad, who were among the 53 lawyers, prosecutors and judges killed under the Duterte administration since 2016.
A threat on Zarate is a grave threat on all legislators who are fulfilling their mandate and on all human rights defenders who remain true to their lawyers’ oath. These threats are glaring violations of rights under our Philippine Constitution and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We salute and respect the professionalism of Zarate by focusing on and not diverting from the legitimate issues that should be discussed by legislators. We are even more inspired by the uncompromising principles of human rights defenders and legislators who continue to work even harder always within the framework of the Constitution and the laws.”
In a powerful statement, prominent lawyers from Davao City, all former Presidents of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said that “Making derisive public accusations without filing any case will never result to getting any justice. The truly guilty will not be punished and the unjustly accused will not have any hope of being cleared . . . We are still a democracy and the rule of law shall prevail.”
In the Senate hearing, I proposed that the solution to insurgency is not the approach proposed by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as that will only lead to more killings and violations of human rights. It will actually strengthen the insurgency, as it did during the Marcos dictatorship, as many young people might see that they have no option but to join the armed struggle. Red-tagging in this sense is a strategy for our leaders to escape accountability for their failure to solve the country’s biggest problems.
The alternative to NTF-ELCAC is a true whole-of-nation approach that brings us all together to address our common challenges – to survive this pandemic and combat climate change, and in the long term to defeat poverty, inequality, and injustice. A permanent political settlement that brings to the table all political forces is a precondition for that. And we won’t get there by calling each other names.
No to red-tagging and yes to the peace process is the only way forward for the Philippines.
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