Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the attempt to trivialize and justify the dangers of red-tagging

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the attempt to trivialize and justify the dangers of red-tagging

The prevalence of red-tagging in recent years has resulted in attacks against the lives, liberty, and security of groups and organisations, especially those working in defence of the rights of vulnerable and marginalised sectors. Those at the receiving end of red-tagging are usually those vocal critics of the government; thereby, making it easy to label them as so-called “enemies of the State.”

The harms linked to red-tagging range from vilification, intrusion into a person’s right privacy due to surveillance, harassment, to grave ones, such as unlawful arrests, enforced disappearance, and even killings. The current repressive political climate and prevailing impunity thus contradict the claim of a government spokesperson, stemming from an incorrectly re-worded Supreme Court decision, saying that “mere labelling of a group as a communist front is not an actual threat to one’s right to life, liberty, and security.”

In Zarate v. Aquino, the Supreme Court more accurately said that “[m]ere membership in these organisations or sectors cannot equate to an actual threat that would warrant the issuance of the writ of Amparo.” And as incidences show, red-tagging should not be taken lightly for it has serious repercussions, including the downplaying of legitimate dissent and making persons and organisations tagged open for further harm.

CHR’s findings* in its national inquiry on the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) are “replete with testimonies about HRDs across all sectors who, prior to being killed, injured, illegally arrested, charged with trumped-up cases, or otherwise put in harm’s way, have first been red-tagged.” The Commission provided several recommendations through a report that was submitted on July 2020. Among the key recommendations is for the government to “desist from red-tagging and labelling HRDs as terrorists or enemies of the State” and to “publicly acknowledge the legitimacy of the work of HRDs and seek to actively protect and promote the right to defend rights.” Despite these recommendations, we continue to receive reports and monitor incidences of unabated red-tagging from high officials especially the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

It is unfortunate that government officials—those with the primary obligation to respect and protect human rights—have been continuously resorting to red-tagging. This practice seriously negates their sworn duty to the people.

In the past weeks, some election candidates with incumbent positions are also being red-tagged due to their inclusive approach to governance by engaging diverse groups, including the progressive sector. CHR continues to denounce this reprehensible practice, including the recent spate of red-tagging in the Cordillera Administrative Region, which targeted Baguio mayor Benjamin Magalong and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance comprising of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, Youth Act Now, Kabataan, and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

In the context of the upcoming national elections, labelling candidates and groups as communist fronts and/or affiliated or sympathizers of the communist party consequently delegitimizes their specific advocacies that respond to the pressing human rights needs of the people. It can also result in the exclusion of the legitimate concerns of vulnerable groups in the election discourse consequently restricting the right to socio-political participation during this important phase of the election process.

CHR reiterates our repeated call to the government to put an end to the carte blanche approach of red-tagging individuals and groups under any circumstance and regardless of their advocacy, ideology, and perceived political affiliation. Defaulting to this approach results in missed opportunities to address concerns being surfaced by the labelled persons and groups. Governance necessitates tackling various issues across diverse groups of people, rather than downplaying or trivializing certain concerns due to preconceived notions and labels.

It is expected that due process and rule of law are followed rigidly at all times before making grave accusations and labelling that endangers human rights and dignity. The government has the duty to create a climate conducive to human rights and human rights work. Deliberately engaging in practices that make certain individuals and sectors vulnerable to violence, harassment, and stigma negates the essence of government work, which is to uphold human rights and the dignity of all. ###