UP graduates falsely tagged as NPA eye cyber libel complaint

University of the Philippines (UP) alumni red-tagged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Saturday, January 23, they were looking towards legal action against those responsible for a Facebook post falsely claiming they joined the New People’s Army (NPA) and later died or were captured by the AFP.

At least 5 of the 27 people named by the AFP joined a virtual presser on Saturday to denounce the post and to show that they are alive and well.

“The members of the group are consulting and definitely we want to hold people accountable for this reckless publication of a list and our malicious inclusion in that list. We are considering cyber libel and other legal [actions],” said Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyer Raffy Aquino, who was included in the list.

Aquino said he believed there was an angle of contempt because of the inclusion of counsels in an ongoing litigation in the Supreme Court on the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

The exact person or entity that would be sued remains to be confirmed. But former Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) president and lawyer Alexander Padilla, also included on the list, said it could be the AFP Information Exchange and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

A question was raised about holding President Rodrigo Duterte accountable as commander-in-chief.

While hindi natin nakikita 'yung direct hand ni President Duterte, we know that Lorenzana is his ‘alter ego,’ kung tawagin. We assume that lahat ng sinasabi ni Secretary Lorenzana, is also may bahid ng kasunduan with President Duterte,” said Padilla.

(While we do not see the direct hand of President Rodrigo Duterte, we know that Lorenzana is his "alter ego." We assume that everything Secretary Lorenzana says is in line with President Duterte.)

Duterte has immunity from suit, which means he cannot be named as a respondent in a criminal case for as long as he is in office.

The AFP has taken down the post, but at least 12 Facebook pages that identify as linked to the military shared the list on Thursday, January 21.

Dangerous effects

The alumni present in the meeting highlighted the implications of the military’s red-tagging and the adverse effects it may cause activists and critical thinkers. The red-tagged graduates were also student leaders back in their day.

Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA) president Lisa Dacanay said she would not take this lightly “in the context of the unconstitutional provisions of the anti-terror law.”

“We need to make the AFP accountable for actions that are libelous and potentially endangering and wreaking havoc on the lives of individuals like me who are living peaceful, meaningful lives as responsible citizens and advocates of democracy and sustainable development,” said Dacanay.

“It’s concerning,” said business journalist Roel Landingin. “If that’s the kind of information they use for military operations, can you imagine if there were no pandemic and we held a reunion, that reunion could be misconstrued as an NPA assembly and we could be subject to a military operation.”

Meanwhile, playwright Liza Magtoto said even if the Facebook post has been taken down, the damage has been done. “[It’s] psychological aggravation. Don’t we deserve an apology? Shouldn’t they retract that and correct the misinformation?”

'Underestimating the Filipino people'

Former environment undersecretary Elmer Mercado, who was visibly agitated by the news, said by posting false information, the military “underestimates the intelligence of the Filipino people.” Mercado was also included in the AFP's list.

Ang akala nila lahat ng tao tanga, at hindi nakapag-aral (They think all Filipinos are uneducated idiots). With the access to social media, you cannot color everything by whatever fake news or narrative, because the reality and truth will always come out because it’s right there in your face,” said Mercado, who went on to list the failures of the government, such as corruption and non-delivery of services.

“Our people, our children see the truth…. And we should not be afraid. We should be proud. If they call us Red, so what’s wrong with being Red?” he said.

“If Red means articulating your ideas, presenting your analysis based on your understanding of the facts, based on objective reality, and based on your appreciation of the dynamics and understanding of what’s happening in society and articulating it to the best of your ability, and doing something about it, whether you do it through your development work, the work that I do with LGUs doing disaster climate change planning, what's wrong with that?” he added.

The alumni called on the UP community and the public to remain vigilant, critical, and to form counter-narratives.

Even dead maligned

Meanwhile, the family of the late Rafael A. Japa, Jr issued a statement Tuesday, January 26, denying and protesting "his inclusion in the list in the now taken-down post on the Armed Forces of the Philippines Information Exchange Facebook page.

Lawyer Ramil Japa said his brother Rafael "…has been dead since April 1992 due to a massive heart attack which happened while he was at home in the city with his family. He was a respected and well-loved sportswriter and columnist for several major daily newspapers."

"Since the publishers of said post are employees/officials of the government, it behooves upon them the duty to respect and follow the rule of law. It is criminal to make malicious imputations of a wrong or defect; and to blacken or besmirch the memory of the dead who basically cannot defend himself anymore," said Ramil.

He added: "The dead cannot be the terrorists you are running after. They are already in peace. Respect their memories and leave them out of your maneuverings."

Not new

State-enabled red-tagging is not new. In a 2020 investigation, Rappler found police pages and accounts that habitually share content from dubious, anonymously-managed pages known for perpetuating lies and for red-tagging individuals and groups.

Supreme Court oral arguments on the contested anti-terror law will take place on Tuesday, February 2. – Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.

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