Philippine intelligence agency links gay-rights, youth groups in anti-communist campaign

Roel Pareño
Zamboanga, Philippines
Philippine intelligence agency links gay-rights, youth groups in anti-communist campaign A woman holds a sign during a rally to mark Pride Month in Quezon City, Philippines June 2, 2023.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The state intelligence agency has accused a gay rights group and some youth organizations in the southern Philippines of being fronts for communist insurgents, the Commission on Human Rights said on Thursday.

The commission, an independent quasi-government agency, confirmed that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) had made the allegation against several groups, including the Mujer LGBTQ+. 

Mujer has been providing relief assistance to war-ravaged and disaster-prone communities in the Muslim-dominated south. It along with several organizations, including Akbayan Youth Zamboanga and the Crimson Youth Network, were labeled as front organizations for the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) during a recent NICA lecture in Zamboanga City, the rights commission said.

“The commission considers red-tagging as an arbitrary attack against persons that has the effect of violating their freedom of speech and association,” Judelyn Macapili, the commission’s  regional director, said in a statement.

Red-tagging refers to baselessly accusing someone of being a communist sympathizer. 

Macapili said the confirmation stemmed from the lecture by the NICA to officials of a local village, during which the speakers urged citizens to “report all the monitored youth organizations affiliated and personalities with the CTG [communist terrorist group) Front Organizations.” 

NICA, an agency under the office of the president, did not immediately respond to multiple BenarNews requests for comment on Thursday. In Manila, the press office for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declined comment.

Mujer has no political affiliations and carries out medical services as well as paralegal services to victims of gender-based violence, its leaders said. 

The group said it relied on donations and grants for funding and has helped educate communities in the south about LGBTQ+ issues. While the Philippines is a fairly open-minded country when it comes to sexuality, it still is the bastion of Catholicism in Asia and certain quarters remain highly conservative.

One of Mujer’s leaders, Rhadem Musawah, said homosexuality in the Muslim south, meanwhile, could have deadly consequences. 

“We have assisted and engaged with over 20 municipalities and cities all over Mindanao. That is why being a part of this list has really put down the morale of the entire group,” Musawah told BenarNews on Thursday.

“This is a challenging job, an advocacy that constantly puts our lives at risk,” he said. “But we do it because we believe that we cannot attain peace without tolerance, co-existence and respect.”

Musawah said he feared that being red-tagged could set back Mujer’s inroads in the region. In June, it conducted LGBTQ+ rights awareness in the city of Cotabato, dominated traditionally by Muslim clans. 

He recalled one incident when a high-ranking police officer who belonged to an influential Muslim clan threatened Mujer members with violence.

“Fighting for LGBT rights in the Muslim dominated south, especially in the Bangsamoro region, has always been very challenging because we risk our lives every time we travel to armed-conflict areas,” Musawah said.

‘Irreparable damage’

The rights commission cautioned the NICA and said the alleged red-tagging had “produced irreparable damage to the reputation of the persons or groups” labeled as working with armed dissenters.

Red-tagging “has been weaponized to restrict dissent and limit participation of groups and individuals in democratic discourse. The Commission considers ‘red-tagging’ as an arbitrary attack against persons that has the effect of violating their freedom of speech and association,” Macapili said.

She said that the public naming of these groups was done “without identifiable, actionable wrong but only a presumption” that could have a chilling effect on the groups.

In July 2020, then-President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act that allows state intelligence organizations to designate foreign or local individuals and groups as terrorists. Suspects can be scooped up and detained without charges for up to nearly a month.

The NICA has been using the law to go after groups suspected of having links to the underground CPP and its military wing, the New People’s Army. 

But Duterte also used it to stifle dissent, according to human rights groups. 

Months after the law passed, a military general accused a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer of being a propagandist for the rebels because she had reported on petitions against the law. The military later apologized. 


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