Cordillera students hold protest vs red-tagging at RTF-ELCAC webinar

They spent two days listening to what some of them called a "red-tagging spree" of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC).

As the webinar wound down on Thursday, September 16, with an invitation to join hosts in reciting a “pledge of loyalty,” student activists who were among the participants staged a protest in the Zoom chatbox, as they held placards and banners against red-tagging, while one participant managed to annotate the Zoom meeting screen with "Defund ELCAC."

“Kung may pinatunayan ang forum na ito, ito ay mayroong solidarity sa mga estudyante. Hindi kami tanga, at walang masama sa pagiging kritikal,” said University of the Philippines Baguio University Student Council (UPB USC) chairperson Cheska Kapunan.

(If there is anything this forum has proven, it is that students have solidarity. We are not dumb and there is nothing wrong with being critical.)

Attack on legal progressive organizations

On September 2, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) endorsed the RTF-ELCAC’s “Cordillera Youth for Peace Convergence: Orientation on the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) Youth and Student Recruitment." It was held in four segments and ran from September 15 to 16.

The webinar aimed to “identify and educate students on the threat of student organizations as deceptive fronts in the recruitment of Communist Terrorist Group.” The host was the secretariat of the RTF-ELCAC’s Cluster on Situational Awareness and Knowledge Management (SKM).

Kapunan said the webinar organizers focused their efforts “to link legal, progressive organizations to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).”

Kapunan pointed out that some of the organizations attacked are recognized by the UP Baguio administration, including the League of Filipino Students and Anakbayan. 

Other red-tagged groups were the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, the Kabataan Partylist, and the National Union of Students of the Philippines, which includes the UPB USC.

Online protest

Fed up with sessions that lasted four hours while going around in circles, the students expressed their boredom, dismay, and dissatisfaction in a flood of chat box messages.

“Na-red tag na nga kami, kina-cut pa kami noong open forum,” said Joshua Mendoza, a third-year nursing student from the University of the Cordilleras. He said the students wanted to discuss “pressing matters” from the perspective of college students but organizers just wanted a vehicle for red-tagging.

Mendoza said he was disappointed with the answers to his queries. He and Kapunan have been victims of red-tagging, both online and on the ground, for some time.

Kapunan said: "These students have openly shared their experiences with being red-tagged, even citing court rulings to support their statements, only to be dismissed by the organizers. It is worth noting, however, that other participants who sang praises about the forum were freely able to conclude their manifestations."

"We came to the orientation to state facts and debunk the systematic disinformation peddled by the RTF-ELCAC, we cited the law to back up our defense that red-tagging seriously endangers the lives of students. When confronted with the truth, the fascists did what fascists do best – they interrupted and silenced us, dismissing our legitimate concerns,” she added.

When the RTF-ELCAC hosts ended the webinar with a “pledge of loyalty,” several students flooded the chatbox with expressions of disgust, others held up protest banners and refused to join them as a symbolic act of defiance and to reiterate their call to stop attacks and red-tagging.

The protest peaked when an unidentified participant annotated “Defund ELCAC” on the Zoom meeting screen.

The students’ tirades continued for minutes, while others left the meeting in protest.

“We will continue to assert that because we know it is right,” Kapunan said.

Rappler has tried to reach out to RTF-ELCAC but it has yet to receive a response as of posting time. This page will be updated with their statement once we receive it.

Following the incident, youth leaders renewed their call to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which has asked for the P28.1-billion budget for 2022 – 75% more than its budget in 2021.  

 1Sambayan Youth Convenor Rae Reposa said in an online news conference on Saturday, September 17, that they want the NTF-ELCAC's funds realigned to social services and aid for vulnerable sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. – Rappler.com

Ahikam Passion is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.