Chad Dee Labrador is a staunch critic of communist rebels, and just about any group that holds views that look, feel, sound, taste, or smell left-wing. The netizen, based in Cagayan de Oro, is passionate against those unhappy with the government, especially those who are vocal about it.
On Friday, April 30, he shared a meme, produced by the Army's 14th Infantry Battalion, that implied that the party-list group Kabataan has ties or is part of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA).
The meme compares two photos. One shows a female wearing a face mask and holding a Kabataan placard. The message written on it: "Isang taon na. Wala pa ring ayuda." (It's been a year now. There's still no aid.) The other, on the right, shows a young Grab delivery man with a prosthetic leg and a bicycle.
It became clear to me that the Army battalion was only interested in the propaganda value of that meme, and not in its truthfulness.
First, the meme is used to peddle an unfounded accusation that the female protester was paid P500 as a "rally fee," and implies that she was too lazy to work. How did they know that, for chrissakes?
Second, the meme makers presumed that the young man in the second photo neither cared nor agreed with the message of the activist. Again, how did they know that? Didn't it occur to them that the Grab worker could be a member of Kabataan or another left-wing group?
Third, there is no evidence that Kabataan, as an organization, is plotting to violently overthrow the government. Being a leftist is not the same as being a guerrilla, just as being a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduate doesn't make a soldier a rightist coup plotter.
If the youth group has been outlawed, as the meme wrongly suggests, then the government would have stopped recognizing it as a party-list organization by now. Consider too that the youth group, accredited by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), has a state-recognized representative, Sarah Elago, in the legislature, a co-equal branch of government.
If the group was operating illegally, then why didn't authorities arrest the female demonstrator in the photo pronto, given that she was carrying a Kabataan placard and representing that group in public, in broad daylight?
Truth is, authorities couldn't arrest the young woman because she didn't break any law, and because there is a clause in the Bill of Rights that provides: "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."
It doesn't take a genius to understand that. That is a provision in the Constitution that those who swore to uphold it are now disrespecting and trampling on by intimidating and vandalizing the reputations of those who chose to exercise that right.
What is so wrong with citizens complaining about not getting government aid more than a year after the COVID-19 lockdown, when that is an undeniable fact? That is not armed rebellion. That is a fact-based criticism, and a challenge for the government to do better.
Labrador has frowned on those who complained about being red-tagged, implying that the victims labeled themselves just so they could become the "talk of the town." Was it a case of "red-tag me" as Labrador carelessly and ridiculously implies? Really? Seriously?
"Chad Dee Labrador" is Army Colonel Michele Anayron Jr. in real life, assistant commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro.
Mitch, as he is fondly called, is a gentleman, mild-mannered, decent, friendly, approachable, easy to deal with, and reasonable.
But online, he transforms and assumes an entirely different character that lurks in the shadows of a Facebook account with a different name. (The account's URL, however, bares his real name, and the profile features several photos of him.) Several other officers like him also prefer to use false names on social media. But a lot of netizens do that these days just to hide from debt collectors or because of other reasons, so that should be no big deal.
I have noted that his Facebook account is a sounding board of some of the biggest red-taggers in this government today. It is also a repository, er, a cesspool, of links to materials posted on web-based groups, some masquerading as news sites, that anyone with a decent level of media literacy, pride, and self-esteem would dare not share.
The Labrador account recently amplified a general's veiled hatred towards community pantries by way of a statement. In the statement, which the colonel shared with gusto, the general smeared news media organizations and journalists like all of them have secretly met to conspire against the military. When? And how, pray tell, is this grand Philippine mainstream media conspiracy even possible?
The general, in the same statement, also called the movement that sprang up from Ana Patricia Non's initiative "Community Pantry Ph (CPP)." Now, if that is not red-tagging, I do not know what is.
And the Labrador account echoed and amplified all that.
There is a new strain that's spreading and infecting the uniformed services. It has caused mutations in the PMA alumni, and the rank and file. Several officers are morphing into something the Academy did not train them to be. They are turning into hypercharged hardcore warriors out to search and destroy dissent at all cost, online and who knows where else, in the style of Uson, Nieto, and Sasot, the 3 Stooges of Philippine online fakery and toxicity.
They play god with reputations, fire indiscriminately regardless of the collateral damage, and stop at nothing to carry out their mission – not even, perhaps, when they are squatting on toilet bowls armed with nothing but smartphones in their hands.
Many other PMAers have chosen a different path in the anti-insurgency campaign. Their tack changed from efforts aimed at winning the people's hearts and minds to plain and simple McCarthyism or, in this case, "Badoyistic Parladeism," as I prefer to call it.
It's like they've convinced themselves that dissenters can be bullied into submission and that governance through intimidation, rather than by commanding respect, is the way to go. The problem with that is, the more they push, the more we see people – hungry, angry, and provoked – pushing back.
The pieces fell into place, and I began to understand this metamorphosis – this mutation – when I found out that the colonel had a role in the "Social Media Product Development and Management" training at Camp Evangelista in this Cagayan de Oro City in 2019. I don't know the extent of Colonel Anayron's participation, but he was a part of it.
Trained were Civil-Military Operations (CMO) officers and their assistants, handpicked non-commissioned officers of Army brigades and battalions, members of the Tactical Operations Group of the Air Force, and police officers from the Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions. At first glance, it looked like they were mapping out simultaneous air and ground assault operations. And online, they did.
A 2016 document from the Armed Forces' Civil-Military Office School shows that the program includes training on the use of Adobe software. This could explain why Adobe appears to be all over the red-tagging materials, just like the meme produced by the 14th IB which found its way into the Labrador account.
A trained eye can easily spot the all-familiar fonts, sizes, leading, width, tones, color combinations, and layout patterns used in the memes, posters, leaflets, and tarpaulins. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or, it could also mean that the culprits left their signatures and fingerprints on the materials.
Anayron, who was the Division's chief of staff then, told the trainees, "You need to further keep in mind that your role is just as equally relevant to our soldiers in the frontlines of the battlefield.”
Incidentally, that training was given during the same period in 2019 when religious leaders, activists, lawyers, and journalists were bombarded with red tags in Cagayan de Oro. Needlessly scarred, the red-tagged petitioned city hall to do something to put a stop to the character assassinations. Now, I wonder if those red-tagged then were mere workshop guinea pigs.
There's nothing wrong with equipping soldiers with social media skills to counter insurgency with facts, except that, two years after the Camp Evangelista social media training, we are surprised to see a well-oiled network of soldiers – too politicized and almost partisan, even – that's starting another anti-communist hysteria grounded on deliberate exaggerations, half-truths, and falsehoods, too outrageous to even pass off as poorly produced PR handouts.
What was supposed to be an anti-insurgency crusade turned into a bullying spree, far from the military's good old winning-hearts-and-minds approach. It's beginning to look like their response to the threat has become more dangerous than the threat itself.
They have stooped so low, and are behaving like rowdy red-baiting social media influencers, identically troll-like and given to gossiping. They peddle absurdities and incredible conspiracy theories no better than the rubbish tales overheard in barbershops or whispered about by hairdressers and manicurists in cheap neighborhood beauty salons. That is not exactly the conduct expected of soldiers, more so, if they are professional, hardened, disciplined, and snappy PMA graduates in shiny black boots.
Hearsay and fakery, evident in the visuals generated in their meme factories, and hatemongering against critical and unsubmissive citizens' organizations are the primary weapons in their arsenal. Do they think that sharing memes abundant with sly innuendoes and hearsay is an excuse? That is brazen slander, and rumormongering by definition.
They launch and echo vicious ad hominem attacks on members of the Lower House and the Senate, and recklessly pounce on citizens due to their real or imagined association with groups critical of the government. These days, a mere selfie with self-exiled CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison in The Netherlands could put one in trouble.
I am worried because if they can do this to the legislative branch of government, then they can do the same thing to members of the judiciary. Let us ask the red-tagged Mandaluyong judge if she disagrees.
This new variant that has infected the Armed Forces poisons the mind and makes soldiers demonize food relief-giving community pantries and their innocent organizers, mock citizens who dramatize their grievances, and attack legislators unfriendly to their causes and methods. For the infected, there is no middle ground; it's either one is for them or against them.
I give it to them. Soldiers are citizens entitled to their views, too. But there was a time when gossiping and fakery were a no-no in the barracks, a pasttime or a habit foreign to real men of honor and integrity. It was an era when the military stayed out of politics except in extreme situations when lines had to be drawn. Gone are the days when they left politics in the territory of civilian authorities and citizens. That is no longer the case now, or so it seems.
If that's not politics, then what are we to say of the April 27 Facebook post of Colonel Anayron regarding legislators cum politicians bent on defunding the task force associated with red-tagging? His exact words: "Let them feel us in 2022."
Yeah, right, feel them in the 2022 elections. Whatcha gonna do? Impose an Iglesia ni Cristo-like bloc voting policy in the Armed Forces next year?
If the AFP now allows its officers to talk politics or call "unfriendly" senators names because that is within their rights as citizens, then the military establishment has to respect the same right of dissenting officers to speak up, too, even if their views constitute criticism of their Commander-in-Chief. It should go both ways. But we know that will never happen, and that is why we know they are selective.
The indiscriminate offensives and red-taggings appear systematic. There is a message from a trolling cum red-tagging command center, and then everyone down the line inflates it. Yet the military is ashamed to own up to it.
Here's a fact: top officials of this administration have been red-tagging anyone who challenges the government's narratives and assertions. And many members of the Armed Forces and the National Police are mimicking the civilian officials' behavior and parroting their lines.
Just last month, Rosel Eugenio, president of the union of Senate employees, was called an "NPA operative," and his organization was red-tagged, making senators, including Senate President Vicente Sotto III, raise their eyebrows in disbelief. The recklessness found its way into the Facebook account of no less than Alex Monteagudo, director-general of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).
Days earlier, a Baguio court ordered the Cordillera police to stop red-tagging youth activists. The court order against red-tagging by the police is a fact.
The state's thrust was demonstrated again before the Supreme Court during the resumption of the oral arguments on the petitions against the anti-terror law on April 27. There, Solicitor General Jose Calida linked lawyer and former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares and several progressive groups to the communist insurgency.
Calida's "inescapable conclusion," as he called it, was based on what he said was the silence of the petitioners and lawyer Colmenares on the atrocious acts of the CPP-NPA. Add to that, he pointed out, was the discovery of several election campaign materials of Colmenares and left-wing organizations inside the offices and NPA "armories" that were raided by state forces.
But if mere NPA possession of election paraphernalia proves another's participation in the armed rebellion, then what are we to say of the Commander-in-Chief, whose 2016 campaign materials also passed the hands of NPA rebels and some of the groups now being accused of having ties with the guerrilla movement?
A jester says the reason the 2016 campaign materials were not found during the raids is that the NPA and the left-wing groups used the election paraphernalia as toilet paper the minute they realized that they've been had. The joker proceeds to ask: shouldn't the Commander-in-Chief be accused then, at the very least, of aiding these people with wet wipes for their toilet duties?
The Calida attack was a rephrasing of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's 2019 response to a Makabayan bloc congressman's call for the defense establishment to stop red-tagging people. Lorenza replied, "Condemn the CPP-NPA. Stop these atrocities, condemn ’yung armed struggle na sinasabi ni Joma Sison, and we will also stop what we are doing.”
That was red-tagging from whatever angle one looks at it.
The logic is also a bit problematic. First, it presupposes that people or groups that have not publicly condemned the CPP-NPA are behind the rebel atrocities. Second, it was a damning admission by the defense secretary of what they were doing, which, in the context of the exchange, was red-tagging.
It makes me wonder if that is how they look at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). What about the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)? If my memory serves me right, these organizations have never or have yet to condemn the CPP-NPA.
And what about the Red Cross? Or the Rotary Clubs? The Jaycees? The Kiwanis and Lions Cubs? The Masons? The actors' guild? The hundreds of homeowners' associations that have mushroomed in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao? Or the administration's PDP-LABAN itself? The list of organizations not known to have publicly condemned the CPP-NPA is long.
Or are the state's red-taggers just selective, preferring to gang up only on helpless citizens who have refused to become sit-down puppies, and groups that have been holding the line and pushing back?
The red-tagging that we are seeing is reminiscent of the McCarthyism that reared its ugly head in the US in the late '40s. That was a dark period of hysteria in American history when hundreds were unfairly accused of being communists colluding with Moscow against US interests. Many were accused of subversion and treason without substantial evidence. Lives, reputations, and careers were destroyed as a result.
A US senator, Joseph McCarthy, was the poster boy in that wave of red-taggings. He had a "list" of alleged subversives who supposedly infiltrated the federal government, including the military. (The thing about "lists" and "matrices" is, these can be used for demagogic hocus-pocus, to create the illusion of credibility even when these are nothing but mere props in a magician's fat bag of tricks.)
McCarthy's “crusade” received popular public support, initially. His popularity didn't last long, though, owing to his dogged determination in hurling unsubstantiated accusations left, right, front, and back just to score points. His style backfired. And it became clear that he was just a traditional politician, with a penchant for character assassination, who took the red scare for a ride so that he could get reelected.
McCarthy ended up condemned and censured by his Senate peers for employing smear tactics. Ruined and no longer taken seriously, he turned to alcohol. He died in 1957.
It would be good to ponder on the words of Joseph Welch who stood as special counsel to the US Army during the McCarthy hearings. The senator got owned by Welch, whose words marked the beginning of the downfall of that calloused red-tagger.
Responding to the red-tagging of his young associate who had a history with a lawyers' organization accused of being a communist front, Welch blurted, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.... Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
McCarthy was dumbstruck; Welch's words reverberated and were greeted with applause.
Let Welch's words sink in. Then, the overzealous practitioners of this Badoyistic Parladeism can reflect on this lesson that General Jovito Palparan Jr. learned a bit too late: at the end of the day, it will be "nighttime."
The similarities are striking, and the clock is ticking. Pastilan. – Rappler.com
Herbie Gomez has been a journalist based in Cagayan de Oro for over 30 years. He edits the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.