Rights group slams Philippine govt for ‘red-tagging’ activists

Basilio Sepe and Gerard Carreon
Rights group slams Philippine govt for ‘red-tagging’ activists Demonstrators carry signs denouncing the Philippine government’s targeting of activists by branding them as terrorists, during a protest in Baguio city, northern Philippines, Oct. 12, 2018.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

The Philippines’ leading human rights alliance lashed out at the government Tuesday for designating four leftist activists as terrorists and said the move was nothing but a “virtual hit list.” 

The Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) last month added the names of Windel Bolinget, chairman of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, and three members – Jennifer Awingan, Sarah Abellon-Alikes and Stephen Tauli – to the list of wanted “terrorists individuals.” This was done through a resolution released to the public on Monday. 

Karapatan, a coalition of local human rights groups, said the four were involved in helping poor communities in far-flung and remote areas of the country. It accused the government and the military-led council of “red-tagging” – or baselessly accusing someone of being a communist sympathizer. 

“We condemn the ATC for unjustly, arbitrarily and maliciously designating political activists as terrorist individuals and endangering their lives, safety and security in the process,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary general, told BenarNews. 

“This is but the latest in a string of harassment the four indigenous people’s leaders have suffered in the hands of state forces,” she said. 

Bolinget was designated as a terrorist shortly after he filed a civil suit on June 23 against Maj. Ruth Dizon, the police chief in Kapalong, a town in Davao del Norte, a province in the south. Dizon had filed a murder charge against Bolinget in 2020, Karapatan said. 

“We deplore the increasing use of terror laws against activists and peasants to suppress political dissent and violate basic rights and civil liberties,” Palabay said. 

“We call on all human rights advocates and groups to renew the call for the repeal of the terror law. We should not allow the further use of this draconian law to stifle dissent and to violate people’s rights,” she said. 

On Tuesday, the ATC reiterated that it had “verified and validated information, sworn statements and other pieces of evidence” against the four and that this was a prelude to filing an actual case against them. The designation automatically led to the government’s freezing of bank accounts owned or linked to the four, the council said in a statement to BenarNews. 

“Organized violence pursued by terrorists certainly needs resources, without which their terrorist plans and activities cannot be sustained. Thus, the effective disruption and denial of financial and other resources of terrorists clearly show the important role of ATC designation as part of the legal processes in preventing and suppressing terrorism,” it said. 

In June, Raymond Basilio, secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), complained to the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency, about the alleged red-tagging and profiling of union members by the Department of Education. 

Basilio was referring to a June 14 memorandum where the education department directed regional officials to submit a complete list of teachers affiliated with ACT. 

“The blatant attacks against ACT Philippines are systematic and recurring under the ongoing anti-insurgency efforts of the states’ military agency,” Basilio said. 

The office of Vice President Sara Duterte, who serves as education secretary, has clarified that the move was not intended to profile teachers, calling the allegation by Basilio “patently absurd, distorted and followed no logic.” 

“The request was publicly available and proves that it did not intend to target members of the union, as alleged by ACT,” her office said on June 24. “There is simply no effort or intention to purposely target members of ACT union.”

Anti-Terror Act 

Signed into law by then-President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2020, the Anti-Terror Act allows the council to designate domestic or foreign individuals or organizations as terrorists. The act created the Anti-Terror Council, allowing the government to arrest suspected terrorists without a warrant and hold them without charges for up to 24 days. 

Nearly 40 petitions have been filed with the nation’s highest court seeking to nullify the law, but to no avail. The court upheld the constitutionality of most provisions, including the council’s power to designate a person or group a terrorist even before a trial.

Months after the act was signed into law, Tetch Torres-Tupas, a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which has been critical of the government, was accused by a military general of being a propagandist for communist rebels. The news organization had reported on a petition against the law.

Military officials subsequently cleared Torres-Tupas but only after being widely criticized in the Philippine  media.

In 2020, the Philippine government designated the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, as terrorist groups. Sixteen other organizations were designated last year to suppress funding sources.  

The NPA has been waging one of the world’s longest-running rebellions since 1969. It peaked in the 1980s, when the number of armed rebels was believed to be about 20,000. Today, slightly more than 2,000 are scattered across the Philippines, according to authorities.

Dennis Jay Santos in Davao city, Philippines, contributed to this report. 


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