Negros Occidental

Group denounces military’s alleged red-tagging of IPs in Negros Occidental 

Erwin Delilan

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Group denounces military’s alleged red-tagging of IPs in Negros Occidental 

CONCERNS. Indigenous peoples group leaders meet with local officials in Isabela, Negros Occidental, to discuss discuss concerns.

NCIP-Negros Occidental Community Service Center

(1st UPDATE) Human rights group, IBP support indigenous groups complaining against alleged military harassment

BACOLOD, Philippines — The Ati Marikudo Tribe (AMT) of Isabela town in Negros Occidental denounced the alleged red-tagging by the military, accusing authorities of falsely labeling them as supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Milina Jeruta, officer-in-charge of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Negros Occidental Community Service Center, cited a male Ati from Barangay San Agustin who expressed exhaustion from the constant suspicion and legal pressures faced by his community.

“He is tired of always being suspected as a supporter of the NPA,” Jeruta said. 

Jeruta also said many Atis linked to the NPA by authorities found themselves accepting plea bargaining agreements just to secure their release.

But 1st Lieutenant Mary Liza Joy de Guzman, civil-military officer of the Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion, denied these allegations, asserting the military’s commitment to maintaining positive relations with indigenous communities.

“We are not red-tagging members of the IP communities in Isabela,” she said on Thursday, May 16. 

De Guzman said the military plans to discuss the issue with the NCIP to resolve “misunderstandings.” 

Groups like the Human Rights Advocates Negros (HRAN) and the local Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) have pledged to support the Ati and other indigenous groups, condemning the continued harassment and urging for systemic changes.

HRAN, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to protecting Negrenses’ rights, condemned the continued red-tagging activities it blamed on the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the Army, and the police. HRAN asserted that such actions do not resolve the insurgency but instead exacerbate resistance.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., during a visit to Cagayan de Oro on Thursday, May 16, reiterated his support for the NTF-ELCAC, denying government involvement in red-tagging and emphasizing the program’s role in reducing internal security threats by aiding former insurgents.

Isabela town is one of the areas on Negros Island still considered a “hotbed of insurgency.” 

The term “red-tagging” has been legally recognized as a threat to an individual’s right to life, liberty, or security, based on the Supreme Court’s decision on May 8.

Despite the government’s denials of red-tagging, the Leonardo Panaligan Command (LPC) of the NPA has called for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC, accusing it of perpetuating red-tagging as a strategy against vocal civilians and critical groups on mere suspicion that they have have ties to the NPA..

The IBP-Negros Occidental chapter has offered free legal assistance to any indigenous groups with red-tagging concerns. 

Lawyer Gerry Llena, the local IBP president, said they have been supporting the Ata and Bukidnon tribes in Don Salvador Benedicto town and were willing to extend help to IPs in Isabela and other areas.

Twenty-one of 31 localities in Negros Occidental have indigenous communities from the Ati, Ata, and Bukidnon tribes, totaling over 90,000 people, according to the 2023 census. In Isabela, Ati communities can be found in eight villages, including Amin, Cabcab, Banog-banog, San Agustin, Riverside, Camang-camang, Makilignit, and Sikatuna.

Jeruta emphasized the need for awareness among the Ati, who often find themselves caught in conflicts between the Army and the NPA or entangled in land disputes. 

On Thursday, Marcos questioned the recurring inquiries about the possible abolition of the NTF-ELCAC. 

Marcos told reporters in Cagayan de Oro, “Ito nga, ako na magtatanong sa inyo, bakit lagi niyong tinatanong sa akin yan? Wala namang dahilan kung bakit natin tatanggalin ‘yan. Ang sinasabi, dahil mayroon raw red-tagging na ginagawa. Hindi naman gobyerno gumagawa noon. Kung sinu-sinong iba ang gumagawa noon.”

(Now, let me ask you, why do you always ask me that? There’s no reason for us to remove it. They say it’s because there is alleged red-tagging going on. It’s not the government doing that. It’s being done by various other entities.)

He added, “At ‘yung pinakamabilis na sagot diyan, no, hindi namin ia-abolish ‘yung NTF-ELCAC.” 

(And the quickest answer to that is no, we will not abolish the NTF-ELCAC.) with reports from Herbie Gomez/

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