Branding political enemies as communists to justify terror campaigns against them, a practice called “red-tagging,” has been a serious problem in the Philippines — even for celebrities. Actress Liza Soberano was publicly threatened by a military official after showing support for Gabriela, a prominent women’s group critical of the Rodrigo Duterte administration.

The 22-year-old star on October 13 joined a women’s rights webinar hosted by Gabriela. Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade took note of Soberano’s participation and wrote a veiled threat on Facebook.

“Liza Soberano, there’s still a chance to abdicate that group,” General Parlade wrote. “If you don't, you will suffer the same fate as Josephine Anne Lapira.”

Lapira was a young activist who was killed in 2017 and suspected of being a member of the guerrilla group, the New People’s Army (NPA).

The general went on to warn other local celebrities like Angel Locsin and former Miss Universe Catriona Gray against getting involved with Gabriela. His remarks prompted showbiz personalities to pledge their support for Soberano, Locsin, Gray, and the values of free speech. They also criticized the red-tagging that has become pervasive in the Philippines. Criticizing Duterte or supporting progressive groups has long been labeled by government supporters as subversive, threatening to national security, and therefore grounds for red-tagging. Evidence has not played a big role, while voicing opinions unaligned with the current administration suffices as the basis for red-tagging.

The practice of red-tagging is usually reserved for dissidents rather than household names like Soberano. Parlade’s recent threats have called into question the conduct of public officials who have been custom to making unsupported accusations.


Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

Protesters display placards during a rally outside the general headquarters of the Philippine armed forces to denounce alleged military's "red-tagging" of leftist protesters Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 in suburban Quezon city, south of Manila, Philippines.
Paint the town red

Since the controversial anti-terror law took effect in July, there have been high-profile killings and arrests of activist leaders, all supposedly linked to an underground Communist movement. Even opposition lawmakers from the Makabayan (Nationalist) bloc have been reportedly under surveillance.

Parlade, the spokesperson for the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict, has been extremely vocal against alleged communists who are often journalists or activists. He admitted publicly that he has placed surveillance on Makabayan lawmakers without a court order or any substantial evidence, and saw no problem with it.

Makabayan Congresswoman France Castro, who was arrested in 2018 during a solidarity mission to indigenous schools, was placed under surveillance as well despite being acquitted.

“Because the Anti-Terror Law is now in effect, military men like Parlade have become more emboldened to threaten us,” Castro told The News Lens. “We are singled out because we are very vocal in Congress in exposing human rights violations by the state and their lack of transparency when it comes to counter-insurgency programs.”

Believing in communism is not illegal in the Philippines. The only illegal act would be to bear arms against the government, but sympathizing with an ideology is covered under the right to free speech. What’s really at stake is freedom of speech, as the state equates dissent with terrorism.

Red-tagging, at its mildest form, can result in a public trial by publicity. But at its worst, it can be life-threatening.

Grace Cantal knows of these dangers first hand. She is the mother of Myles Albasin, a journalist and political prisoner, who has been painted by the military as working with the guerrillas.

“Red-tagging is dangerous to everyone especially under this authoritarian regime for it has become a prelude to death,” she said, adding that the military has touted Albasin’s arrest as a trophy for eliminating an agent of communist influence.

#NoToRedTagging, #YesToRedLipstick

Locsin, an actress and philanthropist, has been among the strongest critics of Parlade’s “baseless” statement.

In a statement, Locsin launched the hashtags #NoToRedTagging and #YesToRedLipstick to rally supporters. Hundreds of men and women colored their lips red and posted selfies onto social media.

The backlash against Parlade and the military hierarchy became so prevalent that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that if Parlade didn’t have any evidence, it would be best to just “keep quiet.”

Meanwhile, Gabriela chided the general for “mansplaining” and being afraid of strong women. The group protested this week in red shirts with fists holding red lipsticks high, decrying the “red-tagging spree.”

Joms Salvador, the secretary-general of Gabriela, said the acts of “red-tagging and terrorist-tagging only indicate the Duterte government’s intention to intimidate the growing number of Filipinos” who demand better response to the current crises.

Activists have also long called for abolishing the task force, which is set to acquire around P19 billion (US$400 million) in 2021 in the government budget, a 3000% increase.

Congresswoman Castro criticized the unproportionate allocation of resources and the task force’s lack of transparency. “These are billions in the hands of generals without any oversight,” she said. “[The money] can be used for social services especially now during the pandemic.”

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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