Journalist Leonardo "Cong" Corrales is earning the reputation as the most red-tagged journalist in Cagayan de Oro.
The 47-year-old Corrales, associate editor of the Cagayan de Oro-based Mindanao Gold Star Daily, has been subjected to numerous red-taggings on social media, and in anti-communist propaganda materials circulated in the city since 2019.
This week, he found old photos of himself again in leaflets and posters that linked organizers of the city's first community pantry in Barangay Kauswagan to the decades-old communist insurgency.
One photo showed him brandishing a "firearm." That photo, he laughingly said, was taken while he was playing with an Airsoft replica toy gun used as props during a safety training for journalists sometime in 2010.
Corrales said his inclusion in the posters were meant to bolster the narrative that the pantries were communist-backed, and to discourage journalists in Cagayan de Oro from writing about the community pantries.
His only connection: he wrote a story about the pantry for his newspaper.
"Naanad na man mi; nag-adapt ug manhid na ko," Corrales told Rappler. (We got used to the red-tagging; I have adapted, and became calloused.)
Corrales, his wife Ailyn, and son – an employee at the Commission on Elections – have not been spared in previous red-taggings.
Laughing, he said, "They've red-tagged everyone in my house. They can red-tag my dog and cat, for all I care. There are times I wonder if it's my beard. Tungod lugar kay ang bangas nako pareha kalabong ni Marx, komunista na lugar dayon ko?” (Do they actually think that I am a communist just because my beard is as thick as Karl Marx's?)
His relatively thick and dark beard is in his genes, something he inherited from his late father Emilio, a famous Cagayan de Oro journalist who once served as regional director of the Marcos administration's Office of Media Affairs, the precursor of the Philippine Information Agency.
The Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philppines (NUJP) condemned the latest red-tagging of Corrales in what was seen as an attempt to make the Kauswagan community pantry look like an initiative backed by comnunist rebels. Corrales is a member of the COPC board, and he is a former director of the NUJP national board.
Dr Manuel Jaudian, COPC president, said: "Our members are armed with facts, and not with bullets."
Judian called those behind the red taggings as "lunatics" who were "exacerbating the people's frustrations."
Just a day after the Kauswagan pantry was opened on Monday, April 19, posters and other black propaganda materials were circulated in the city, accusing Corrales of being a communist propagandist for its organizer, University of the Philippines (UP) physics instructor Rene Principe Jr.
Corrales merely laughed off the accusation. "I have never met Mr. Principe - not once. I merely communicated with him online just like most of the journalists who were doing the same story. My report was basically the same as the others. Again, I really wonder if it was my beard that made the difference?"
The 22-year-old Principe and other Kauswagan pantry organizers stopped the food aid-giving as a result. They have also distanced themselves from reporters and shunned interviews after they posted their announcement about their decision to close the pantry on Wednesday.
NUJP called on authorities to investigate the incident, and bring those responsible for the red-tagging to account.
Corrales however said he was no longer expecting government protection. He said officials who condemned what was being done to him and his family did not go beyond "lip service."
"Not once did any of them in government actually offer to help. And so, I have learned to adapt," he said.
(Note: The author is the editor-in-chief of the paper where Corrales serves as associate editor. He is a past president of the COPC, and served as NUJP regional coordinator before the Union was reorganized in the region in the late '90s.)