BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights Cordillera regional office issued its first resolution directly addressing the “Dumanon Makitongtong” (Seek and Talk) strategy against activists, reminding the Baguio City Police Office (BCPO) and the Philippine Army that human rights must remain at the core of the government’s anti-insurgency strategy.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story referred to the resolution as the fourth issued by CHR-CAR in relation to tokhang. This has been corrected.
The CHR-CAR also called visits to an urban poor leader’s home a brazen act of red-tagging, making it the fourth resolution on the practice decried by human rights defenders.
Addressing the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (RLECC) Resolution No. 06 on a complaint filed by local urban poor leader Geraldine Cacho, the CHR-CAR said: “While the Resolution aims to address the problems on insurgency, which all of us decry, it must be done with human rights at its core…. The Resolution gives law enforcers authority to intrude into the homes of human rights defenders or activists and to interview and profile them.”
Cacho, the chair of Tontongan ti Umili (People’s Caucus), said the CHR-CAR resolution was dated May 18 but she received this only on Tuesday, June 21.
According to her affidavit, she and her husband have been victims of unwanted visits and profiling by both police and members of the military since March 2021. She was also among those invited by the police and the army for its Community Support Program (CSP) White Area Operation.
The AFP’s Development Support and Security Plan Kapayapaan define CSP as a “community-oriented and issue-oriented operational concept employed in conflict affected areas and conflict-prone areas.”
The Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council (CRPOC) in August 2021 adopted the RLECC’s proposed measure.
The strategy, likened by critics to the “tokhang” operations of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, includes visiting homes and talking to “known members of communist front organizations (CFOs)” to discourage them from supporting communist rebels. It is the revised version of RLECC Resolution No. 04, which was also opposed by church, legal community, and several members of the Baguio City Council.
‘Brazen act of red-tagging’
“In visiting and profiling Ms. Cacho, it appears that she was already branded as a member of a CFO. Being a human rights defender and member of an activist organization does not make an individual a supporter of the [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front],” CHR-CAR said.
The office said the act is “a brazen act of red-tagging” and “constitutes human rights violation.”
In a text message on June 22, Cacho called the resolution “a positive development amid the shrinking democratic space.”
“This sends a clear message to our law enforcement that this strategy is flawed and undemocratic. We hope that the resolution sets a precedent, as more leaders and members of our organization continue to face the same harassing visits from police and military,” Cacho added.
The CHR-CAR’s also reminded the government “that any credible accusations/s must be pursued through the rule of law, cognizable charges, compliance with due process and the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent and impartial authority.”
It is the CHR-CAR’s fourth resolution since 2021 amid the rising cases of red-tagging in the region.
The first three were related to the complaints filed by Baguio-based alternative media outlet Northern Dispatch against the Baguio and La Trinidad police, and former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict Spokesperson and retired army general Antonio Parlade.
In a media briefing with CHR-CAR during the commission’s anniversary last May, the Police Regional Office Cordillera (PROCOR) and military denied red-tagging groups and individuals.
A Baguio court also ordered PROCOR to stop its units from associating youth leaders and their organizations with the CPP-NPA-NDF in March last year. In their response, PROCOR admitted six Facebook pages named by the petitioners as official accounts of its units.