UPLB alliance calls on school officials to protect students from red-tagging
LAGUNA, Philippines – An alliance of student councils and organizations from University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) called on the school administration to ensure their safety after a propaganda video red-tagged student demonstrators from the campus.
On May 10, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) released a video featuring statements from individuals that declare progressive organizations to be “fronts” and “recruiters” of communist groups such as the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Among the examples shown in its propaganda video was a student demonstration in UPLB’s Carabao Park.
Defend UPLB said that students who appeared in the demonstration might be wrongfully labeled as communists and be put at risk.
In a letter to his office, the alliance urged UPLB Chancellor Fernando Sanchez Jr to ensure the safety of UPLB students and publicly denounce NTF-ELCAC’s actions. “The NTF-ELCAC has maliciously used this video to tell a national audience that UPLB students and organizations are [part of] communist terrorist groups,” Defend UPLB said.
Death threats and silencing tactics
Defend UPLB said the video is among the “many cases of red-tagging, threats and harassment that UP students, employees, and non-governmental organizations have experienced.”
Recently, 4 student volunteers of the Serve the People Brigade Task Force Community Unit Response (STPB TF CURE), a Los Baños-based humanitarian group, received 11 death threats from anonymous senders labelling them as terrorists, the group said.
Defend UPLB added that the anonymous text messages threatened to silence students and showed surveillance of their homes at different days and times.
“While these student leaders are currently doing humanitarian work with their relief efforts during this pandemic, anonymous sources have sent threats of knowing where they live with even more threats of illegal arrests or killing,” Defend UPLB said.
This is also not the first time NTF-ELCAC has red-tagged UP students. In a now-deleted Facebook post, it earlier claimed that different media organizations and groups – including the Union of Journalists of the Philippines, a student organization under UP College of Mass Communication – were exploiting the ABS-CBN shutdown to uphold communist ideals. (READ: 'Let this be our final warning': UP CMC slams red-tagging students during pandemic)
Supposed safe haven for students
Jasper Sunga, head of the UPLB University Student Council (USC), also condemned the NTF-ELCAC propaganda video implicating UPLB students, saying these should not be tolerated. “Red-tagging should not be tolerated as it puts in danger the lives of people, progressive or not. Numerous death threats, illegal arrests, and other forms of human rights violations are possible implications of red tagging,” Sunga added.
Juan Sebastian Evangelista, editor-in-chief of the UPLB Perspective, one of Defend UPLB’s allied institutions, lambasted the Duterte administration for using state forces to silence critics.
“The blatant red-tagging by the NTF-ELCAC not only endangers the lives of students fighting for better services, but it also sends a clear message that the administration does not tolerate any kind of criticism. It only shows that this administration would rather silence activists and critics rather than address the problem itself, ” he said.
Defend UPLB reminded the UPLB chancellor to protect the campus’ stakeholders from external forces that threaten their academic and democratic rights.
“Students and communities expect institutional leaders like our university chancellor to safeguard student security and academic freedom which is the very right to study, believe, investigate and discuss investigation of social issues concerning the country. To trample this would be to trample our human right of expression and free experience of democracy,” Seth Pagulayan, spokesperson of Defend UPLB, said.
In a dialogue with students on October 23, 2019, Chancellor Sanchez committed to maintain UPLB as a safe haven for its stakeholders.
By Wednesday night, May 27, the UPLB Chancellor released a statement defending the students who appeared in the demonstration video. Sanchez said that the students were “in the legitimate exercise of their rights guaranteed by our Constitution.”
“They should not be vilified for taking a stand on issues affecting society…When we dissent, we are only being true to the role of UP as the nation’s conscience. When we take to the streets to hold a rally, we are not after the overthrow of government, we are demanding accountability; accountability that we also demand from our students,” he said.
Sanchez added that within its walls, UPLB is committed to protect the rights and safety of students regardless of labels and colors.
“We may be on opposite ends of the political spectrum and may differ in ideology but we have a common goal, a common aspiration – a just and humane society for our people. While our means and methods within the bounds of law are different, we must accord each other the respect that each of us deserves,” he said. – Rappler.com
Alvin James Magno is the news editor of UPLB Perspective, the official student publication of University of the Philippines Los Baños. This piece was first published on UPLB Perspective and was edited with permission.