AFP’s red-tagging activities in HS campuses must stop—CHR, Kabataan Party

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expressed “deep concern” over recent red-tagging activities by the military and government institutions addressed at high school students in Rizal Province.

In a statement, the country’s national human rights institution said it is alarmed by a report that the 80th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the Department of Education organized a seminar last May 22 at Taytay and Cainta senior high schools where red-tagging pamphlets were distributed to the students.

The students and their parents were forced to attend without prior notice, in accordance with Provincial Resolution No. 3 series of 2023, the CHR said.

CHR said screenshots of the pamphlets were shared with the media, saying that recruiters of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) “could be found at protests,” and are “teaching people to despise government.”

“The Commission reiterates that protests and the right to peacefully dissent are fundamental human rights that the State must recognize. Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that ‘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 said.

CHR added that participating in protest and dissent are forms of public expression used to voice grievances, not to identify themselves as part of an insurgency or communist armed rebellion.

“Regardless of political orientation and ideology, participating in a protest is an exercise of fundamental human rights, allowing individuals to express their concerns and demand change,” the Commission said.

Kabataan Party last May 25 issued an alert on the incident, saying the pamphlets “insinuate that any form of opposition to government, especially joining protests, is terrorism.”

Kabataan Party’s red-tagging alert issued last May 25.

Information program?

The CHR said the National Security Council (NSC) has replied to the report and refuted the allegations.

The NSC reportedly stated the pamphlets were only for “informing students about indicators that they are being recruited by communist rebel group organizers,” as part of “community information programs to protect vulnerable sectors from terrorist recruitment and exploitation.”

The CHR however said it is essential that such efforts do not stigmatize legitimate expressions of dissent.

“While the CHR is one with the State in preserving and protecting the country’s peace and security through the adoption of policies countering the threats of terrorism and underground armed rebellion, we believe that it is still essential to raise awareness about the potential dangers of arbitrary labeling,” the Commission explained.

The CHR noted that the Supreme Court (SC) itself declared the act of red-tagging as a “threat to life, liberty and security” as it arbitrarily connects individuals and organizations to the underground armed movement.

“This act [red-tagging] often results in surveillance, enforced disappearances, and even extrajudicial killings, as individuals and groups become targets for violence and harassment perpetrated by various forces,” the Commission said.

“[W]e urge everyone, particularly our security forces and duty-bearers, to refrain from disseminating misconstrued information that could hinder the freedom to protest or compromise the safety of individuals exercising their democratic rights,” it added.

A Philippine Army soldier in combat uniform distributing pamphlets to Rizal senior high school students. (Philippine Army photo)

‘Cha-cha opposition is not terrorism’

Kabataan Party Rep. Raoul Manuel said the Rizal incident belies President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s claims his government does not engage in red-tagging.

“Filipinos who disagree with the pro-foreign interest and selfish charter change (cha-cha) initiatives are arbitrarily regarded as terrorists by Marcos Jr.’s military. Funds are being wasted in these red-tagging and terror-tagging seminars and pamphlets,” Manuel said.

Manuel added that the AFP, the National Task Force to Eliminate Local Communist Armed Conflict and Marcos Jr. want the youth to blindly follow their “anti-people policies.”

“They want to ruin the youth’s ability to ask questions and to think critically. Such disinformation and red-tagging drives poisons the mind and endangers their lives,” the legislator added.

In line with the SC decision on red-tagging, Manuel said they are studying options to have the incident investigation and make those responsible accountable. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)