'Not light threats': Groups slam military for tagging Bacolod youth activists as 'terrorists'

Youth groups have condemned the military for tagging youth activitists in Negros Island as "terrorists," calling this "proof" of the dangers of the new anti-terror law.

The groups – including League of Filipino Students (LFS)- Bacolod, Akbayan Youth, Anakbayan-Negros, Bacolod Youth Alliance, and Bahaghari – condemned the 303rd Infantry Brigade in a solidarity statement on Thursday, August 6.

“We condemn the unsolicited posts of the 303rd Infantry Brigade’s Facebook account ‘Brown Eagle’ tagging the Bacolodnon youth and student activists as terrorists," said the Bacolod Youth Alliance, a coalition of youth activists in Negros Island.

"We stand in solidarity with the victims of this cyber libel and harassment, as well as call unto the youth not to let this deter us from speaking the truth and holding our public officials accountable,” they added.

The youth groups said the social media posts are not “light threats," citing the signing of the anti-terror law which has been widely criticized for its broad definition of what constitutes an act of terrorism – seen to silence dissent.

“This is proof of the anti-terror law claiming its first victims, who were neither the terrorists nor imminent threats to the government that the law aimed to quell, but rather mere concerned youngsters who know whatever tyranny done today will have great burden on their future,” said the Bacolod Youth Alliance.

Using photos taken during a protest at the Bacolod public plaza, the Brown Eagle Facebook page, which identifies itself as the official Facebook page of the 303rd Infantry Brigade in Bacolod, red-tagged several members of the League of Filipino Students (LFS)-Bacolod and the Bacolod Youth Alliance in at least two separate social media posts. They them as “terrorists and virus carriers.”

Red-tagging is defined by the Supreme Court as the "labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists, or terrorists (used as) a strategy...by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be 'threats' or 'enemies of the State."

The photos were taken from a State of the Nation Address protest held last July 27, which were originally uploaded by LFS-Bacolod in their Facebook page. Aside from the LFS-Bacolod logo, the photos featured 9 members of the same youth group and 3 members of the Bacolod Youth Alliance.

In the graphics posted by the military unit, members from League of Filipino Students-Bacolod and the Bacolod Youth Alliance were branded with statements such as “SONAgkaisa ng mga virus na terorista! (The virus that is terrorists band together)” and “Kabataang tinaguriang pag-asa ng bayan, sariling gobyerno kinalaban (Youth seen as the hope of the nation fight its own government).”

On August 6, the Brown Eagle page once again red-tagged the youth activists by sharing a graphic posted by a certain Ramon Chua that features a photo collage of the protesters with the statements “SONAgkaisa ng mga virus na terorista” and “certified terorista.”

The graphic also features a photo of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, along with the statement, “Magrally pa kayo at sabay nating isisi sa gobyerno ang pagtaas ng kaso ng COVID-19 (Continue to rally and let’s blame the government together for the rise of COVID-19 cases).”

In their statement, the youth groups clarified that the protesters who took part in the rally wore face masks and observing physical distancing, as required. They also secured a permit to assemble from the city and coordinated their plans with city officials.

“[We] demand that the harrassing photos be taken down from their page, and that the Infantry Brigade be held accountable for their actions,” Bacolod Youth Alliance added.

League of Filipino Students-Bacolod stressed how these attempts to red-tag activists could threaten their safety in light of the anti-terror law. Despite being legally recognized as a youth organization, they still found themselves being branded as "terrorists" by the state.

“The recently passed Anti-Terror Law will only aggravate such practices by authorities, with just about anyone who is unfavored vulnerable to being labeled as a terrorist without due process,” Bacolod Youth Alliance said.

The controversial law has been challenged by many groups and individuals for its supposed unconstitutional provisions that abridges fundamental rights including freedom of speech and expression. Under the law, a suspected terrorist could be detained for 14 days without a warrant.

LFS-Bacolod noted how government efforts to red-tag the youth only showed it is “afraid of the growing youth and student movement that can be seen in the various successful mobilizations conducted nationwide."

Aside from standing in solidarity with the red-tagging victims, the Bacolod Youth Alliance called on to the youth not to let the situation deter them from speaking the truth.

They also urged lawmakers to pass the human rights defenders bill, which will not only prevent the same incident from happening again but will also protect every citizen’s most basic fundamental rights.

The 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have not yet released a statement regarding the matter. As of writing, the controversial posts are still on their Facebook page. – Rappler.com

Khaela C. Vijar

Khaela C. Vijar is a Rappler volunteer from Ateneo de Manila University. She is an incoming freshman taking up a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.

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