Red-tagging in UP Diliman
A disturbing development in the current search for a new chancellor of the University of the Philippines Diliman is the “red-tagging” campaign being conducted against one of the two candidates for the position. Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen defines “red-tagging” as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/ or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (and is used as) a strategy… by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State’.”
Red-tagging is an unacceptable practice in a civilized modern society, as borne out by several instances in the Philippines where it has been rejected and proscribed. On June 3, 2019, the House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill No. 9199, the proposed Human Rights Defender Protection Act, defining an extensive range of rights for human rights defenders and, in particular, obligating government to refrain from “red-tagging” and other derogatory labeling.
Acting on a petition from groups red-tagged by the military, the Supreme Court issued on May 24, 2019, a writ of amparo and habeas data in favor of the petitioners. The Supreme Court also ordered President Duterte and military, police, security, and defense officials to comment on the petition. Later, on Sept. 2, 2019, the Supreme Court ordered Malacañang and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to explain the red-tagging of a group of lawyers who had been accused of links to leftist organizations.
On Aug. 29, 2019, the New York City Bar Association sent a 74-page letter to President Duterte expressing its profound concern in the wake of violent attacks on judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other legal professionals in the Philippines. Relating such attacks to red-tagging, the association pointed out that “red-tagging puts individuals at great risk, exposing them to threats, harassment, intimidation, physical injury, and even death.”
The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have warned that “the use of red-tagging as a political tactic continues to undermine Philippine democracy by stifling dissent, encouraging authoritarian practices, and generally having a chilling effect on discourse and debate.”
Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said red-tagging schools and students may embolden the Armed Forces of the Philippines to suppress basic constitutional rights. She added that “this blanket act of red-tagging endangers students and the youth, and it may give the AFP a license to arbitrarily infringe [on] the freedom of expression, the right to petition government, as well as to assembly.”
Denunciations of red-tagging also came from an unlikely source—the commander of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, Maj. Gen. Franco M. Gacal. As reported by the government’s Philippine Information Agency, in a dialogue with Cagayan de Oro journalists on Sept. 5, 2019, Gacal said that “red-tagging is not part of our policy and campaign” and that the military “have nothing to gain from it.” He further branded red-tagging as a “cheap propaganda to create a divide between” the military and media.
The current red-tagging campaign in UP evokes memories of a similar episode in the 1960s when the Congressional House Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities (Cafa) targeted UP professors and students who were branded as communist supporters. Subjected to persecution were no less than then UP president Vicente Sinco, and professors Leopoldo Yabes, Cesar Majul, Agustin Rodolfo, and Ricardo Pascual. The Cafa witch-hunts, however, only galvanized and unified the UP community in defense of academic freedom and scholarly integrity, and became the trigger for the resurgence of radical student activism. In the hallowed halls and grounds of the country’s premier institution of higher learning, it is imperative that all parties involved in the current search for the UPD chancellor strictly adhere exclusively to valid and relevant issues and the merits and track record of each candidate. Mudslinging and underhanded practices associated with “trapo” politics, of which red-baiting is a notorious example, must be discarded and consigned to the garbage bin of social discourse.
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Eduardo C. Tadem, Ph.D., is a retired professor of Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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