Baguio City

Cordillera media-citizens council slams red-tagging SMNI hosts

Sherwin de Vera

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Cordillera media-citizens council slams red-tagging SMNI hosts

Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB, Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB, SMNI News Channel

'The allegation against us was totally fabricated and almost absurdly funny, except that it put us in a dangerous predicament as we are in a foreign country,' says journalist Frank Cimatu

BAGUIO, Philippines – A media-citizens engagement group in the Cordillera has criticized the hosts of a program in the broadcast media arm of controversial Davao City-based doomsday preacher Apollo Quiboloy for red-tagging journalists and writers in Baguio City.

In a statement issued on Thursday, June 1, the Kordilyera Media-Citizen Council (KMCC) said the hosts of Sonshine Media Network International’s (SMNI) Laban Kasama ang Bayan program  – Jeffrey Celis, Lorraine Badoy, Yna Mortel, and Franco Baranda – “continue to ride on the red-tagging caravan” in their attempt to “become relevant and maintain their airtime fame.” 

Celis, Badoy, and their co-hosts have been known to malign activists and groups in the region, particularly those associated with the Cordillera Peoples‘ Alliance. 

They have also red-tagged the Benguet Electric Cooperative and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong

This time, the group’s red-tagging rampage targeted multi-awarded journalists and writers from the city, who were in Thailand last week with several indigenous rights activists.

During their program on May 25, Celis labeled journalists Harley Palangchao and Frank Cimatu, as well as freelance writer and editor Luchie Maranan, as part of the network of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). 

They also accused Champions of the Earth awardee Joan Carling, Katribu International Solidarity officer Beverly Longid, and indigenous rights advocate Minnie Degawan of being “identified active CPP-NPA-NDF urban operators in Cordillera.” 

Celis said, “Ito po ay grupo ng mga regional urban party operators ng Communist Party of the Philippines. Supporter, infiltrator para sa NPA ang karamihan sa kanila,” while showing a group photo of the individuals. 

(This is a group of regional urban party operators of the CPP. Most of them are supporters [and] infiltrators for the NPA.)

Thailand photo

He added, “Spotted sila sa Thailand at mayroon silang NGO international conference regarding yata ito sa climate change. Pero alam natin na ito ay isang raket at sindikato para sa fundraising ng Communist Party of the Philippines.”

 (They were spotted in Thailand, where they are attending an NGO international conference on climate change. But we know this is a ploy and syndicate to raise funds for the CPP.) 

The photo, taken during a dinner hosted by a non-governmental organization in Thailand, was downloaded from a Facebook page. 

According to Celis, they were there to establish “international finance network operations” for the rebel group and urged the government to take action against them.

Palangchao and Cimatu, who serve as editor-in-chiefs of the Baguio Midland Courier and Baguio Chronicle, respectively, are both founding members of the KMCC. 

They were in Thailand along with other ASEAN journalists for a conference on the growing problem about disinformation. 

The KMCC clarified that they were not part of the same conference as the individuals appearing in the photograph presented on the show. 

The KMCC stated, “The allegations are false and pose a grave danger to the red-tagged individuals, their families, colleagues, and friends.” 

‘Absurd and dangerous’

Cimatu, who also contributes for Rappler, said they were with the other red-tagged people “for a few minutes to join in the merriment.” 

“The allegation against us was totally fabricated and almost absurdly funny, except that it put us in a dangerous predicament as we are in a foreign country,” Cimatu said on Wednesday, May 31.

He said the risks posed by the red-tagging incident forced them to “temper” their movements and created fear of what might happen when they returned to the country. 

“It set us up for a vicious attack from trolls of their own camp. There were also numerous attempts to hack our social media accounts,” Cimatu said.

‘Penalize red-tagging’

KMCC said red-tagging “contributes significantly to the country’s human rights crisis” and “weakens democracy.” 

“It is deplorable. However, condemnation alone is no longer enough to dampen this vicious lie. We must act with urgency and hold the perpetrators accountable,” the group added. 

KMCC also called on concerned citizens and the government to work together to end the trend of recklessly labeling citizens of being rebels.

The group has reiterated its call for the passage of a law to penalize such red-tagging.

During the Duterte administration, several lawmakers pushed for the criminalization of red-tagging. Then Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also supported the proposal. –

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