Red-tagging as desperate distraction | Inquirer Opinion

Red-tagging as desperate distraction

/ 05:02 AM December 11, 2020

Amanda Lacaba Echanis, 34, was arrested last week and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, supposedly an M16 and a grenade.

She was apprehended at a tiny house she shared with her one-month-old baby in Baggao, Cagayan, close to the farmers she lived and worked with.


This event came on the heels of the brutal murder and unpeaceful interment of her father, Randall Echanis, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front. It also came on the heels of the floods in Cagayan, in the middle of a flimsily managed pandemic and a decaying Duterte administration. This is not Amanda’s first brush with prison; she was victimized early by a system that is too scared of harmless ideas when she and her activist parents were imprisoned in the 1990s for no good reason.

Let’s call red-tagging what it is: bluffing. It plays into our long history of failed counterinsurgency campaigns rooted in the black-and-white notion that what is state-enforced is supposedly always just and is for the good of all. This practice of casting out and othering in the name of State control dates back to Spain colonizing us. Myths about aswang and elementals were concocted to keep townspeople confined and subjected to encomienda rule, while those who rebelled were labeled monsters and tulisan, their names made to bear virulent, illogical tall tales that were impossible to verify.


Very little has changed since then. Reword “aswang” to “communists” and that equals the witch hunt for Huks in the 1950s. Conflate “communist” with “terrorist” and you’re onto a post-9/11 US counterinsurgency tactic. Mr. Duterte’s police and military would add their favorite word to this, “drugs,” and voila! You have the narco-political recipe for red-tagging in the chaotic year of 2020.

Because this administration boldly presumes that it is perfect and there is nothing worth criticizing in its moves, it hurls the most absurd accusations at those who oppose it. Critics and dissenters are red-tagged and harassed into proving their innocence. The person being accused as a “communist-terrorist” finds himself or herself in a lopsided deathmatch with the macho Big Boss merrily engaging in our national pastime—chismis.

I didn’t vote for Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, because I couldn’t stomach the idea of anyone’s blood on my hands, not even the blood of oligarchs, drug addicts, and other persons the former Davao mayor loosely defines as our “worst enemies.” But at the very least, my faint optimism when he was sworn in as President came from the thought of Filipinos perhaps arriving at greater political maturity by watching the Duterte presidency eventually fall short of its expansive promises of revolutionary change. I thought we Filipinos would come to the realization soon enough that anything vaguely genocidal was probably genocidal.

Political maturity was possible, as in the reproductive health debates that evolved from Malthusian ideas of population control and killing the poor and disenfranchised in the name of economic progress, to more sober and inclusive ideas of health care for women and a legal scaffolding for real solutions and realistic hopes. In the past four years, however, there has only been a devolution toward more political immaturity, stemming from how this administration wouldn’t even recognize that part in the Constitution allowing citizens to hold all sorts of beliefs, even “communist” ones.

And Mr. Duterte’s minions applaud this deliberate choking of the democratic space. They are happy to tag, imprison, and urge the killing of anyone who holds beliefs different from theirs. But, who in his or her right mind wouldn’t hold beliefs different from theirs when the administration they fanatically champion is, contrary to official rhetoric, hardly serious about rounding up drug lords and corrupt officials, but is instead into coddling friendly oligarchs and aiding political dynasties while racking up more than 30,000 deaths of “drug suspects” so far through the Philippine National Police?

Mr. Duterte today is a shadow of the image he projected in 2015. His administration’s rampant red-tagging is a desperate ploy to pin the blame on dissenters and critics, communist or not, for the vast and worsening misery all around arising from his sorry governance. The drive to demonize activists, progressive workers, and anyone who speaks up for the marginalized rests on the odious belief that while the powerful go about their grasping, merry ways, the poor must remain poor, powerless, and silent in this poor and powerless country.


DLS Pineda finished his undergraduate and master’s degrees in creative writing at UP Diliman. He believes the best line in Taylor Swift’s latest album, “folklore,” is when she asks, “Are there still beautiful things?”

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TAGS: activism, communist, CPP, insurgency, NPA, red-tagging, terrorist
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