From UN reports to Congress: The many times ‘red-tagging’ was used

Jodesz Gavilan

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From UN reports to Congress: The many times ‘red-tagging’ was used
The term 'red-tagging,' the act of accusing individuals and groups of being communists, can be found in various reports and statements by local and international independent mechanisms

The Duterte government dislikes using the term “red-tagging” to describe its dangerous act of accusing individuals and groups of being communist rebels.

Assistant Solicitor General Marissa dela Cruz-Galandines on Tuesday, May 4, said that the term was “not coined by the government,” and that it was “used by the leftists.”

“It is the submission of the government that what it does is truth-tagging and not red-tagging,” she told Supreme Court Associate Justice Ricardo Rosario during Day 6 of the anti-terror law oral arguments.

Galandines echoed the messaging of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The term red-tagging is often used in place of “red-baiting,” a term more likely used in the West, and not coined by communist rebels in the country, according to a fact check article published by Rappler in January 2021.

In fact, the term can be found in published statements and reports, not just by members of “leftists groups,” but also of international and local mechanisms and even legislators.

STATEMENTS. The United Nations uses the term ‘red-tagging’ in statements condemning violence in the Philippines.
United Nations report, statements

The term “red-tagging” is widely used in several public statements and a report by individuals and offices that are part of the United Nations (UN) system.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) used the term nine times in its July 2020 comprehensive report on the widespread killings in the Philippines under Duterte.

“Red-tagging and incitement to violence have been rife, online and offline,” the report read.

In a press release accompanying the report, the UN OHCHR also said “the phenomenon of ‘red-tagging’ – labelling individuals or groups (including human rights defenders and NGOs) as communists or terrorists – has posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression.”

The term “red-tagging” also figured in a March 9 press statement by UN OHCHR which condemned the killings of nine activists in Calabarzon.

It said that the Philippines has “a history of human rights advocates being ‘red-tagged’ – or being accused of being fronts for the armed wing of the Communist party.”

UN experts also mentioned the term in its official communication sent to the Philippine government in December 2019, citing “concerns about a broader trend of so-called ‘red-tagging’ of human rights defenders, journalists, rural communities and legitimate organizations, perceived as threats or enemies of the State.”

REPORT. The Commission on Human Rights’ report in July 2020.
Commission on Human Rights statements, report

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) used the term “red-tagging” in various occasions to describe and condemn the dangerous act perpetrated by many state agents under Duterte.

The Commission recently used the term in a March 17 statement condemning the red-tagging of Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio, the judge whose face was featured in a tarpaulin bearing the CPP logo and displayed along EDSA near Shaw Boulevard.

Aside from statements, CHR also used the term “red-tagging” in its latest report on the situation of activists and human rights defenders in the Philippines.

The term appeared 29 times in the report published in July 2020, following a national inquiry conducted by CHR in September 2019.

The report also quoted Brigadier General Raymundo Acorda, who headed the human rights office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, who said that “defense and military establishments do not sanction any and all forms of human rights violations, red-tagging or red-baiting, enforced or involuntary disappearances, extrajudicial killing, torture and the like.”

LAW. Senator Franklin Drilon proposes a law criminalizing red-tagging in the Philippines.
Proposed bills and resolutions in Congress

“Red-tagging” also can be read in proposed legislations and resolutions filed by members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Senate Bill No. 2121, filed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, seeks to define and criminalize red-tagging. A person found guilty faces up to 10 years in prison.

This was filed after a Senate panel said in a report that there is no need for a law that criminalizes the act. The 66-page Senate committee report likewise used the term “red-tagging” 72 times.

Senator Panfilo Lacson mentioned the term 12 times in his sponsorship speech in March. Senators Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Nancy Binay, and Grace Poe also included the term in their speeches and statements.

The Senate’s action came at the height of red-tagging of community pantries.

In Congress, aside from members of the Makabayan bloc, Parañaque 2nd District Representative Joy Myra Tambunting also used the term in a House resolution she filed in December 2020.

SUPREME COURT. Supreme Cout dissenting opinion makes use of an alternative term for red-tagging.
Supreme Court dissenting opinion

While not explicitly using the term “red-tagging,” a Supreme Court dissenting opinion in 2015 used the alternative term “red-baiting.”

In Zarate vs Aquino III, SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said the case “involves the phenomenon of ‘red baiting,'” and “is our version of McCarthyism,” a term used in the United States to refer to the “red scare.”

“These groups are stereotyped or caricatured by the military as communist groups, making them easy targets of government military or paramilitary units,” Leonen wrote.

Must Read

Dangerous red-tagging

Red-tagging has become a dangerous tool amid the widespread culture of impunity under Duterte. While most, if not all, of these accusations are baseless, those targeted fear for their lives.

In recent months, many activists were arrested and accused of being communist rebels. In March, 10 red-tagged Calabarzon activists were killed.

Now government allies are tagging community pantries as vehicles of communist propaganda. Human Rights Watch said this is further proof that the Duterte government is now “weaponizing ‘red-tagging’ to instill fear among the general public.” – with reports from Lian Buan/

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.