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Red-tagging is the new witch-hunting

In a social media viral meme, a girl laments, “I do not know why we were taught to fear the witches rather than the people who burn them at the stake.” Now we wonder why the original witch hunts continue in the form of red-tagging. In lieu of the religious, military officials are now seeing demons everywhere and do the red-tagging.

President Duterte rarely comes out in public, but when he does, he jolts the nation. Two days after he gave instructions to kill off communist rebels, the police and military fanned out across Laguna, Rizal, Batangas, and Cavite before dawn on Sunday, March 7, and killed nine and arrested six individuals, many of whom had been previously red-tagged by the Duterte administration. Calabarzon police chief Felipe Natividad confirmed that the operations were in compliance with Mr. Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 mandating a “whole-of-nation” approach to end the communist insurgency.

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The witch hunt is not going to end anytime soon. The anti-terrorism law is still in its break-in phase. The Philippine government estimates that there are 5,000 members of the New People’s Army, the same figure the military under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gave. The impossible dream since has been the same—wipe out the NPA. The biggest problem of the military remains the same—they can kill another 5,000 imagined members of the NPA, but the number will remain the same. Nipping the activists in the bud, carelessly presuming that they are poised to go or are already “underground,” will only fan the insurgency.

The problem with the police is that they seem to have developed a doctrine akin to the discredited Code of Kalantiaw, which has been unmasked as a forgery of epic proportions. According to that code, if you are charged with theft, hurting the aged, or killing another person, you incur the punishment of death by drowning in a river or boiling water. If you survive the boiling water, you are innocent. In modern form, this runs along the lines of: If the police shoot you and you die, it must be because you are an NPA or a drug pusher or other criminal who had chosen to fight it out with the cops.

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From a long-term and macro perspective, the Philippine National Police seems to be on a tailspin it may not be able to snap out of in time. The involvement of the police in the killing of military intelligence officers in Jolo in June 2020, the shootout with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Quezon City last month, and the apparent assassination of Mayor Ronald Aquino in Calbayog a few days ago all point to a multipoint failure of organization. The PNP seems to have lost the organizational backbone to give form to flesh, the discipline to keep internal careerist-oriented conflicts manageable, and the capacity and vision to carry out its mission. All the decades of police reforms and anti-corruption, human rights, gender, community policing, and skills training the police officers have absorbed seem to have evaporated.

We need to look back at the PNP’s institutional journey, from the Philippine Constabulary established in 1901 to the Integrated National Police in 1975 and the PNP in 1991. Piecemeal reforms, like giving back police training to the PNP from the Philippine Public Safety College, need to be assessed in the overall strategic context.

Some structural factors stand out in both the police and military organizations. The terms of officers in each major office up and down the hierarchy are so short that every officer is practically only a caretaker. In the time of Mr. Duterte, we have had four police director-generals: Ronald dela Rosa, Oscar Albayalde, Archie Gamboa, and now Debold Sinas. These frequent changes on top are mirrored down the hierarchy in musical-chair fashion. Taken as a body corporate, nobody is really in charge.

At a time when Myanmar is catching the attention of the world as a particularly diabolical military wantonly destroys its own country’s fledgling democracy, the Duterte regime, seemingly jealous of the attention, goes on a rampage and on its own killing spree. Well, it has shared with the Myanmar putschists the condemnation of the United Nations and groups in other countries. Once a beacon of democracy in Southeast Asia, the Philippines now helps Myanmar, Cambodia, and Thailand paint the region as a bleak landscape of emergent democracies gone awry.

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TAGS: militants, Military, red-tagging, social media, witch-hunting
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