This practice is known as “red-tagging” and is defined by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange as a “form of harassment against critics of [the] government.” Red-tagging can come in many forms: threatening accusations, arrests, forced disappearances, and even death.
Under the Duterte administration, red-tagging has intensified due to widespread troll farms, fake news, and state propaganda. With the Anti-Terrorism Law’s (ATL) passing, red-tagging is another weapon in the state’s arsenal against its critics—waging a farcical war that masks the true enemy.
A red target
“I’ve been red-tagged, not only once, but many times,” says Ajay Lagrimas, spokesperson of Anakbayan UP Diliman. He was a long-time community organizer helping out in the Maginhawa community pantry when he talked to an alleged donor on the phone to confirm their donation. Lagrimas was astounded when instead, he received a vicious threat from the other line. “Sinabi na lang niya bigla habang nag-uusap kami na ‘mag-dodonate ako ng armas at baril para ipukpok sa mga ulo ninyo,’” he recalls.
(Suddenly as we were talking, the caller told me, ‘I’m going to donate weapons and guns to hit you on the heads.’)
Another time, Lagrimas was red-tagged after criticizing a Facebook post by the Philippine National Police for accusing Anakbayan and the Communist Party of the Philippines of being terrorist organizations. He then received a message on Facebook labeling him as a member of the New People’s Army and a pest to society. “I was really terrified that I ended the call and almost refused any calls after that incident,” he shares.
“The state uses red-tagging as an apparatus to silence opposition,” says Topin Ruiz, a lecturer from the Political Science Department. “The systemic red-tagging we are witnessing [presently] has the primary goal of silencing the opposition by diminishing the legitimacy of the people who are against those in power.” she says.
Topin argues that persistent red-tagging by the government “‘legitimize[s]’ arrests, state violence, and the like because it reinforces the notion that ‘communists’ are inherently bad.” Activists, organizers, human rights workers, and lawyers already absorb the brunt of Duterte’s strongman campaign against activism. A recent Rappler report indicated that 61 lawyers were killed under the Duterte administration and activists’ death toll has mounted up to 13, with the most recent victims being Zara Alvarez and Randy Echanis.
This is embodied in the ATL, whose loose definition of the term “terrorist” gives the state plenty of room to go after those it perceives to be threats. “[The] Anti-Terrorism Law is the killing machine of Duterte…it’s a legal form of suppressing dissent and ‘yung red-tagging ay kasama [rin sa ATL],” says Lagrimas.
(Red tagging is also included in the ATL.)
Fearing that leftist ideology would overtake democratic values and capitalist institutions, the United States government has historically employed tactics to curb the spread of communism. During the peak of the Cold War, the US deployed CIA-backed coups and regimes in several countries to contain the rise of communism. Despite this intervention, the Philippines’ five-decade-long communist movement is the oldest in Asia and continues to grow in numbers.
For Lagrimas, true social awareness begins with understanding why people take up arms in the first place. He traces this struggle back to the imperialist plunder of our lands, the continued violence against farmers and indigenous peoples, and the exploitation of Filipino workers. When the system is built off of your suffering, who do you turn to for salvation?
These dehumanizing conditions leave the marginalized with little to no recourse, especially when state forces attack them just for defending their fundamental rights to livelihood, education, food and water, and their ancestral lands. “In a society that murders the poor for voicing out their dissent…the NDMOs (national democratic mass organizations) cannot dictate [to] the masses what form of struggle they must take to end oppression…armed conflict will remain in the country unless we address social injustice,” he voices.
Para sa bayan
Ruiz emphasizes the importance of raising awareness for political participation. “Democracy and the practice of democracy should allow people to challenge and question their government,” she asserts. “Communism is not illegal, and those who subscribe to the said ideology are not automatically our enemies.”
In fact, we must take it upon ourselves to understand the gravity of these organized movements. “The truth is, as intellectuals, as students, we cannot change the world. Wala naman tayong kapangyarihan para baguhin ang lipunan; hindi tayo Messiah. Ang katotohanan, the masses awakened are the Messiah,” Lagrimas opines, quoting slain Marcos era activist Eman Lacaba.
(We don’t have the power to change society; we are not Messiah. The truth is, the masses awakened are the Messiah.)
“Arouse, mobilize, and organize,” he emphasizes. The pervasive attacks against these movements that seek social change only prove their power to change the tide. After all, a government afraid of its own citizens must be a very frail one. Lagrimas conveys, “Kung galit ka sa mga taong naniniwala sa isang lipunang wala nang pagsasamantala, ano ang tawag sa’yo dun?”
(If you’re angry toward those fighting for a society where oppression no longer exists, what are you called then?)