Red-tagging in the Philippines is the practice of branding people, usually activists and dissenters, as members of the communist rebellion and associating them with the armed wing – the New People’s Army. It is a practice that has become commonplace during Duterte’s term as he has refused to negotiate peace with the Communist Party of the Philippines. In April of 2020, Duterte rejected future peace talks with the group saying that there were “No more talks to talk about,” according to Rappler. With the recent passing of Duterte’s terror bill and the deaths of activists around the country, red-tagging has become a serious threat to the safety of those who are branded.
After speaking at an event for left-leaning women’s group Gabriela Youth, Filipina actress Liza Soberano was threatened by Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr. of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon. Parlade berated Soberano for her connections with Gabriela, who he claims is tied in with the New People’s Army. He claims that hiding under Gabriela Women’s Party is a mass underground organization called Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA). MAKIBAKA is a revolutionary socialist women’s organization that was banned and forced underground in 1972 along with Kabataang Makabayan, another revolutionary organization, when former President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law.
Parlade’s threat came in the form of a warning. Addressing both Soberano and Catriona Gray, who won Miss Universe in 2018, Parlade warned against associating with left-leaning groups. Gray has been speaking out about the crackdown on human rights groups and the latest “anti-terrorism” law that has effectively acted to stifle dissent.
Parlade invoked the name of Josephine Ann Lapira, who was a UP Manila student killed in a battle between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and suspected members of the New People’s Army in 2017, saying that Soberano would “suffer the same fate” as Lapira if she continued to interact with Gabriela.
Singer Bituin Escalante called Parlade a “fascist pig” in a tweet. She has been outspoken against past red-tagging Parlade has taken part in. The Lieutenant General claims he wasn’t red-tagging Soberano at all. Instead, he says the statement was just a warning. He has stated that he supports women’s rights.
Arlene Brosas of Gabriela said in a statement reported by Rappler: “How come these macho-fascists have the audacity to mansplain strong women and lecture them on what to do? And why do they seem so afraid of women using their platform to defend other women?”
The questions posed by Brosas are a clear demonstration of frustration with the behavior and conduct of male leaders in the Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has a history of misogyny of which he is very proud. On multiple occasions, he has openly joked about rape to the outrage of women across the country. Notably, he recently joked about the rape of an Australian missionary during a prison riot by saying that he should have been allowed to join.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, as reported by the New York Times, voiced her support for the two women targeted by Parlade’s attack. Senator Hontiveros assured the two women, “We will be monitoring him from now on. He should not use his power as a general and threaten these women.”
“To Liza and Catriona: It is difficult and painful to be at the front lines fighting beside persons oppressed by a norm that advocates rape, murder and exploitation.” Senator Hontiveros said in support.
The network Soberano appears on, ABS-CBN, released their own statement of support: “ABS-CBN and Star Magic stand by Liza Soberano as she speaks out against violations of women’s rights.” They go on to recognize Soberano as “an advocate of women’s rights” who “supports initiatives that protect and promote women’s interests.”
Catriona Gray recently posted a video on Instagram which seems to be in response to the recent red-tagging. In the caption, she says, “Please don’t ever allow your voice to be silenced. You never know who’s life may be impacted by your words. You never know who you’ll help feel seen, courageous or comforted. When you speak up for yourself, know that in sharing your stories, you’re speaking up for others too.”
Red-tagging has become a major source of fear for many Filipinos in public view. With red-tagging comes a fear of violence and even death. Just recently, a former congressman of the Bayan Muna party-list filed a petition of writ of Amparo asking a court for protection after being red-tagged by the military. He was accused of being a high-ranking officer of the New People’s Army by the Philippine Army’s Third Infantry Division in June.
Earlier this year, activists Ka Randy Echanis and Zara Alvarez were killed within the same two weeks – both of whom had been previously red-tagged by Duterte’s terror list. Red-tagging is dangerous, especially when it is at the hand of state and military officials. It can result in not only social targeting but violence – up to and including death. Unfortunately for Ka Randy Echanis and Zara Alvarez, the cost of their red-tagging was their lives.
It is important not to let the same happen to more activists or public figures who are outspoken against the problems that exist systemically in the Philippines. Speaking out against sexism, which is clearly an ever-present problem under Duterte’s regime, should not cost you your safety. The government of the Philippines is utilizing fearmongering in labeling dissenters as dangerous, evil, and violent by vilifying them through red-tagging. In doing so, they are further encouraging the silencing of dissenting voices. It is important to combat this, to de-vilify those who are dissenting and make space for activism and human rights groups who are working to take care of communities that have been harmed by the government. Liza Soberano and Catriona Gray are not a danger, they are advocates speaking out for women’s rights. The red-tagging of them and consequent threat by Lt. Gen. Parlade was inappropriate and out-right dangerous.
Philippine military officials need to refrain from abusing their positions of power to vilify dissenting civilians. The act of red-tagging creates fear and increases the potential for violence. Instead, dissenters, organizers, human rights workers, and activists should be given the space to voice their opinions and serve their communities through their work. If a democratic society is to be successful there can not be a stifling of dissent, especially not through the threat of violence. The targeting and killing of activists and human rights workers will only lead to further violence. When you label someone as violent or dangerous and back them into a corner you are forcing them into potentially violent reactions.
To work toward resolving the existing conflict, the Philippine government needs to start by stopping the vilification of the Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorists – and the subsequent threats and red-tagging that result from that label. Instead, they should recognize the party as a legitimate political group and work toward negotiations. To continue to paint the Communist Party of the Philippines as harbingers of death, especially when the Philippine government has been the instigator in many of the violent conflicts between the two, is a dangerous form of fearmongering. The refusal of Duterte to work toward meaningful negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines and find peaceful resolutions should not be taken out on the people through red-tagging and fearmongering targeted at dissenters and activists. It is in the hands of the Philippine government to put an end to red-tagging and start making moves toward peace negotiations.
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