Philippines: The Tactics Behind Red-Tagging

Philippines: The Tactics Behind Red-Tagging
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

The military and government bureaucracy will never openly admit to it, but there is a stark and disturbing trend of mobilizing state resources against civil society in the Philippines.

Red-tagging has been a hotly debated topic in the Philippines these past two months, when the Philippine Senate has convened hearings to discuss red-tagging.

The Philippine military — through the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) — has spearheaded the practice of labelling critics of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration as communist and/or terrorist conspirators working to bring down the state. At the Senate hearings, military men have accused legal organizations, NGOS, media groups, religious institutions, even a special rapporteur of acting as fronts for the communists.

This month saw several high-profile arrests of activists who the authorities have accused of having direct ties to “the reds.” A few months ago, well-known activists were murdered after facing accusations of working with armed guerrillas. More recently, a red-tagged doctor and social worker along with her husband were gunned down in their hometown.

Duterte himself has singled out human rights groups as “enemies.” Next year, the NTF-ELCAC is set to receive a budgetary allocation of 19 billion Philippine pesos. The president abjured any ceasefire with rebels this holiday, a first since the country’s Martial Law years while saying that no further negotiations will be welcomed by his government. Duterte has already explicitly expressed his intention to end the revolution before his term ends. Although by the looks of it, much of the state’s efforts have been directed towards civilians.

Though the country has waged a civil war launched by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its guerrillas in the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) for more than 50 years, it’s doubtful that the military can even produce any solid evidence linking their targets to the communist insurgency. so. What red-tagging is, in short, is a recipe for repression. Throughout the military’s red-tagging spree, a chilling pattern has begun to emerge.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
An activist wears a mask with the words “STOP THE KILLINGS” during a protest in observance of Human Rights Day, in Manila, Philippines, December 10, 2020.

Trial by publicity

Sightings of banners, flyers, and posters both online and offline with the names and pictures of activists supposedly proving communist links have become a common occurrence. One of the most vocal members of the opposition in congress is Sarah Elago, the representative of Kabataan (Youth) Party has often been subjected to this form of disinformation. It gains traction online, provokes outrage, and sensationalizes the standpoint of the establishment. The military and NTF-ELCAC have been known to employ these methods, as some of their key figures have admitted to releasing this propaganda.

Elago is not alone. The prevalence of fake accounts has even caught the eye of Facebook administrators. They took down over a hundred accounts linked to the authorities. Online slander, though, continues to be defended by Duterte’s top officials, who have said the fabricated posts “have basis,” though military officials have declined to say on several occasions what this basis is.

During the Senate proceedings, Yesha Ramos, the wife of slain activist lawyer Ben Ramos showed pictures of how signposts declaring her husband a communist were posted around major highways. They served as a prelude to his assassination.

The purpose of the black propaganda directed at Elago and Ramosis to rationalize arbitrary attacks against them and other dissidents.

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Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
A protester peers from behind a cutout of President Rodrigo Duterte in camouflage uniform during a rally outside Camp Aguinaldo, the general headquarters of the country’s armed forces, to denounce alleged escalating human rights violations especially among the poor Monday, May 21, 2018 in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines.

To denounce or not to denounce?

When pressed to present evidence communist links, a common tactic of the NTF-ELCAC is to shift the conversation. Lorraine Badoy, spokesperson of the task force has done this in many instances. In a roundtable TV discussion on the economic problems of the country, a guest from the progressive think-tank Ibon Foundation was berated by Badoy throughout the program.

In a now infamous video, the agitated official kept challenging her fellow guest to denounce the activities of the CPP-NPA. For many of Duterte’s supporters, only a categorical condemnation of the rebels suffices to prove innocence. Badoy has acted similarly aggressive in at the Senate hearings in demanding repudiation of the guerillas.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has also recently issued a resolution enjoining city governments to denounce the revolutionaries.

Is denouncing the rebels really the only way to escape government scrutiny? This logic holds that failure to condemn the revolution presumes guilt of participation in it. The problem is that this line of questioning detracts from both the root causes of the armed conflict and it oversimplifies the debate on how best to resolve it.

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Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Elago
Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago.

Evidence planters

Peasant organizer Amanda Echanis was arrested on December 2, eight days later, seven other activists were jailed. All carried the same charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Last year, the administration unveiled a supposed “Red October” plot to bring down the government. In it, dozens of activists, church and media groups were named with little to no evidence of conspiring for a communist takeover. Following these allegations, a succession of raids were conducted on activist headquarters in several cities, leading to the arrest of 57 individuals. All were brought in on similar charges.

The case of Echanis contributes to the widely-held suspicion among activists that authorities plant evidence to justify incarceration. National Police Chief Debold Sinas even publicly admitted that they had no witnesses to testify that Echanis was carrying weapons. At the time of her arrest, Echanis was nursing her new-born infant. She said that she has never dealt with guns and bombs, much less let her child near anything like that.

The Philippine Bar Association “expressed concern” at the frequency and quickness with which warrants are issued for these arrests that target particular groups of citizens. These so-called “warrant factories,” on the other hand, were defended by administration stalwarts maintaining that these decisions hold probable cause.

While the military and the entire government bureaucracy will never openly admit to it, there is a stark and disturbing trend of mobilizing the state’s resources for a campaign against civil society. There is a method to this crackdown. And no matter how much officials try to deny it, the regularity with which cases like those of Ben Ramos and Amanda Echanis occur gives away the game. It won’t be until either the administration or a people under siege gives in that red-tagging and its adjacent tactics will cease.

READ NEXT: Philippines Celebrities Not Immune From Red-Tagging Terror Campaign

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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