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Abduction survivor Jonila Castro addresses UN; reveals continuing rights violations under Marcos gov’t 

State abduction survivor and anti-Manila Bay reclamation activist addressed the ongoing 56th regular session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, narrating widespread freedom of expression violations under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government.

In an interactive dialogue last Wednesday, Castro again narrated her abduction with fellow environmental activist Jhed Tamano by the Armed Forces of the Philippines last year and the subsequent harassment court charges filed against them by authorities.

Castro and Tamano were abducted in Orion, Bataan on Sepember 2, 2023 and were detained for 17 days in a military camp in Dona Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan before the Philippine Army’s attempt to present them as rebel surrenderees.

“Now we face serious allegations of defamation. These challenges highlight the threats to our freedom of expression as defenders, amidst numerous other attacks (against defenders and activists) under the Marcos administration,” she said in her speech.

Castro, now advocacy officer of the environmental coalition Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, condemned government’s red-tagging practices and their severe implications for environmental defenders, journalists and activists.

“Red-tagging not only jeopardizes our safety but also undermines environmental advocacy,” Castro said.

“By silencing voices that promote environmental protection, it facilitates unchecked exploitation of natural resources and hampers efforts to combat environmental degradation,” she said.

Castro was among the civil society representatives who delivered interventions at the UN session where Special Rapporteur Irene Khan highlighted the perilous situation faced by journalists in exile.

Castro said a journalist from the Philippines was forced to go into exile after threats to his security, agreeing to Khan’s report of the physical, digital, and legal threats they endure journalists endure.

“But just like exiled journalists, Filipino environmental defenders also confront threats that compromise their safety and security,” Castro affirmed in a press release sent to media right after the UN HRC session.

Castro endorsed Khan’s recommendations for the protection of exiled journalists, recommending an independent investigation on the Philippines on continuing human rights violations under the Marcos Jr. government.

Castro is part of the delegation of the Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch, a network of civil society organizations monitoring recommendations of UN member states related to human rights in the Philippines. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)

End the censorship!

On February 5, 2024, leaders of people’s organizations and the editors-in-chief of two alternative news media organizations wrote the National Telecommunications Commission urging it to rescind its order to block access in the Philippines to 27 websites.

The call was made in agreement with and in support of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan’s declaration, based on her initial findings from her country visit, that the website blocking is a “direct form of censorship.”

The Philippine Constitution explicitly states that no law shall be passed abridging freedom of the press and expression. Any restriction, Khan said, should be done in accordance with international standards of legality, necessity and proportionality. To date, there is no law allowing any government agency to block websites.

In their letter, the signatories said that “such standards were not met when the NTC issued its order” and that there is no legal basis for the commission to block access to the websites of organizations that have not even been designated by the Anti-Terrorism Council.

Despite hope, as well as assurances from the government, of wider civic space and of a better appreciation of basic human rights after the Duterte presidency, the letter went unanswered for three months.

The NTC finally responded and, citing advice from the National Security Council that requested the blocking of the websites in the first place, said that it will not reverse its order and will instead wait for the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to decide on the petition questioning the basis and legality of that order.

The letter, which came after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said at a media forum that he prefers a critical press and after the announcement of the creation of a new “super body” on human rights, casts doubt on the sincerity of such gestures and contradicts the government’s claim of a Bagong Pilipinas.

We, the undersigned, urge the NTC to reconsider its decision and call on President Marcos Jr. to rescind this illegal, unfair and unwarranted restriction on press freedom, the freedoms of expression and association, and the right to due process.

Altermidya
Amihan – National Federation of Peasant Women
Anakbayan Maskom
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Bulatlat
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU)
Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP)
College Editors Guild of the Philippines
Davao Today
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
Kodao Productions
National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA)
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Philippine Press Institute
Pinoy Weekly
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)
Union of Journalists of the Philippines – UP

Media study: Red-tagging is gov’t policy

Red-tagging is a State policy, a study by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), currently being launched in Baguio City, reveals.

Nearly 80% of red-tagging cases against journalists and media groups are state-sponsored or come from government-employed individuals, the NUJP study NO TAG: Press Freedom for Pluralism says.

Image from NO TAG: Press Freedom for Pluralism

“The study finds that as high as 60% or more than half of the red-tagging incidents in the last eight years have been state-sponsored, and 19.8% of the red-tagging by State employed the intimidating method of dropping by, or sending a letter, where State agents cite different government policies as basis,” it adds.

The study results are in stark contrast with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s recent statement that red-tagging is not done by government.

READ: Karapatan outraged at Marcos’ refusal to abolish NTF-ELCAC; Cebu unionists reveal rampant gov’t red-tagging

The NUJP said it has documented at least 159 incidents of red-tagging since 2016 to present against individual journalists, newsrooms, and media organizations.

It cited as an example the so-called conspiracy matrix presented former chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo alleging media groups and individuals were part of a destabilization plot against then president Rodrigo Duterte.

“State agents and other actors – using social media and physical methods such as posters, drop-by letters and official documents – have targeted members of both the alternative and mainstream media across the Philippines,” the NUJP said.

Image from NO TAG: Press Freedom for Pluralism

The study reached out to the Presidential Task Force on Media Security that denied red-tagging is condoned by the government as well as to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict that said it had no time for an interview.

The study makes the following recommendations:

1. Mainstream media organizations should continue, and further strengthen, their solidarity efforts with red-tagged journalists whether or not they belong to mainstream media, or alternative media;

2. Media organizations and civil society should create a mechanism by which red-tagged journalists can have easy access to legal support;

3. News organizations should adopt a more robust internal protocol to respond to a red-tagging attack on any of its staff, including but not limited to mental health response;

4. The government should take these complaints seriously, investigate them, and hold accountable the perpetrators; and

5. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr should communicate a clear policy to stop red-tagging.

“[T]his report is meant as input to policy for wider civic space in the Philippines, for more robust support systems for media workers targeted by red-tagging, and an urgent demand to end red-tagging, including the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC, and the continued securitization of government response to social issues and to the call for social justice,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

= = = =

Disclosure: The reporter is a respondent of the study. Kodao is a NUJP chapter.

Karapatan outraged at Marcos’ refusal to abolish NTF-ELCAC; Cebu unionists reveal rampant gov’t red-tagging

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. refused to abolish government’s anti-insurgency task force and human rights and labor groups are outraged.

Human rights group Karapatan assailed Marcos’s decision, saying the president’s declaration that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) does not engage is red-tagging is “rank hypocrisy and denialism.”

“No matter how much he tries, however, Marcos Jr. cannot wash his hands of responsibility for the escalating violations of human rights and international humanitarian law consequent to the NTF-ELCAC’s red-tagging mania,” Karapatan said in a statement.

As commander-in-chief, Marcos Jr. chairs the NTF-ELCAC and approves the counter-insurgency doctrines that drive the agency’s frenzied red- and terror-tagging, the group said.

Marcos told reporters in a Cagayan de Oro ambush interview Thursday there are no plans to abolish the task force accused of being a notorious red-tagger, even as the Supreme Court described the practice as a danger to life, security and liberty of victims.

“Bakit lagi niyong tinatanong sa akin iyan? Wala namang dahilan kung bakit natin tatanggalin iyan,” Marcos quipped. (Why do you always ask me that? There’s no reason for us to abolish it.)

Marcos denied that the NTF-ELCAC as well as the government in general engages in red-tagging.

Karapatan however pointed out that United Nations Special Rapporteurs (UNSR) who conducted official visits in the Philippines have recommended the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC because of its red-tagging practices.

 UNSR on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan and UNSR on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change Ian Fry made the recommendations last February and November, respectively.

“Marcos Jr. can deny the truth all he can. But the Filipino people and the world see through his lies and his hypocrisy,” Karapatan said.

Red-tagged unionists, development workers charged

In Cebu, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chapter Alyansa sa mga Mamumuo sa Sugbo (AMA Sugbo) condemned the filing of antiterrorism-related charges against labor leaders and development workers it said are victims of government’s red-tagging drive.

In a press conference Wednesday, AMA Sugbo said the continuous effort of the Department of Justice’s Terror Task Force, in connivance with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Central Command, “defies the rule of logic” in alleging the respondents transmit funds to underground revolutionary groups such as the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

For one, the charges include AMA Sugbo chairperson Jaime Paglinawan Sr. who is not an officer nor a staff member of Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET) named as the main respondent of the alleged Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 (RA 10168) violation charges, the labor group said.

AMA Sugbo said that prior to the filing of charges, Paglinawan was one of those arrested without a warrant at the gate of the University of the Philippines-Cebu for protesting the passage of the repressive Anti-Terrorism Act on June 5, 2020.

Days ago, several posters red-tagging AMA-SUGBO-KMU, Anakbayan, and Bayan Central Visayas have been seen around CICC and UP Cebu Campus, the group also revealed.

Last May 1, International Labor Day, Police Reqional Office-7 distributed red-tagging materials to rally-goers, it added.

AMA Sugbo said the “relentless attacks on Paglinawan and other development workers…are anti-poor and anti-people.”

“AMA-SUGBO-KMU…dares the Philippine government to focus on what is truly needed by the people right now, and this is to allocate the budget for the basic services necessary for everyone, instead of attacking NGOs and progressive leaders who are truly serving the needs of its people,” it said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rights defenders: Time to abolish NTF-ELCAC after SC ruling on red-tagging

Progressive groups pressed their demand for the abolition of the government’s anti-insurgency agency following the Supreme Court’s (SC) ruling defining the practice of red-tagging as a threat to a victim’s life, liberty and security.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) and Karapatan said it is time for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to abolish the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as government’s most notorious red-tagger.

Speaking as a target and victim of NTF-ELCAC’s “malicious and unrelenting red-tagging,” BAYAN chairperson emerita Dr. Carol Araullo said she welcomes the SC’s “clear, unequivocal legal and morally binding ruling” on the practice.

“Finally there is no hiding behind the deceptive defense that no law exists defining and proscribing the evil practice as a means by notorious red-taggers using official and other platforms to evade responsibility for their acts,” Araullo said.

“It should also provide a warning to their unthinking followers, especially on social media, who parrot their line and contribute to what amounts to the public lynching of their targets,” she added.

In a ruling released last May 8, the high court said it grants the petition of former Bayan Muna Representative Siegfred Deduro for a writ of amparo based on being repeatedly red-tagged by the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and other suspected government agents.

READ: Red-tagging threatens a person’s right to life, SC declares

Araullo for her part has filed a Php2 million damage suit last July against former NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Dr. Lorraine Badoy-Partosa at the Office of the Ombudsman for her “incessant and wanton red-tagging.”

BAYAN chairperson emerita Dr. Carol Araullo at the filing of her complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman last July 2023. (Altermidya photo)

The veteran activist describes NTF-ELCAC as a “malevolent creation by the (Rodrigo) Duterte administration and retained by the Marcos Jr.”

Araullo said she calls on as many of those who have been maligned by the task force as “communist-terrorists” and have suffered its negative effects on their safety, health, well being and ability to continue unhampered in their work as social activists and human rights defenders, to file the appropriate charges against the most notorious red-taggers as a form of legal push back.

“I also demand accountability from the top officials of the NTF-ELCAC. This ruling should lead to the abolition of this (NTF-ELCAC) abomination,” she said.

‘Important decision’

Human rights group Karapatan also welcomed SC’s “important decision,” particularly the high court’s citation on the dangers of red-tagging.

“We strongly demand justice for all victims of red-tagging and all human rights and international humanitarian violations. We denounce and call for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC, as the most notorious red-tagging machinery of the Marcos-Duterte administrations,” the group said in a statement.

Karapatan said the Marcos administration has continued the Duterte regime’s policy on red-tagging since its own National Security Policy, implemented by the NTF-ELCAC, “contains language institutionalizing red-tagging as policy of the current regime.”

“These dangerous practices of State security forces have long threatened the lives, security and liberty of scores of human rights activists, political dissenters and ordinary Filipinos – many of them have been victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, illegal or arbitrary arrests and detention and many other forms of grave human rights violations, including Karapatan human rights workers,” the group explained.

The group also accuses the NTF-ELCAC and its functionaries of repeatedly blocking all efforts to push for the enactment of proposed legislation criminalizing red-tagging and protecting human rights defenders.

READ: CHR tells world of red-tagging, misuse of counter-terror measures

Karapatan also pointed out that numerous United Nations human rights mechanisms – from UN Special Rapporteurs Philip Alston, Agnes Callamard, Michel Forst, Mary Lawlor, Clement Voule, Ian Fry, Irene Khan and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet – have independently observed and recommended that red tagging should stop.

“But the hubris of Marcos Jr. and Duterte’s security forces, especially led by (NTF-ELCAC), have facilitated not only (its) rampant and unmitigated fabrication of lies in attempts to quell dissent, but have also driven the rampant and unmitigated attacks on individuals and organizations,” Karapatan said.

‘Game changer’

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ humanitarian arm Caritas Philippines called the SC ruling a “game changer” for Filipino human rights defenders.

“This decision is a victory for justice and a crucial step for a safer Philippines. Red-tagging has instilled fear and silenced dissent for far too long. The Supreme Court’s ruling sends a clear message that such tactics will not be tolerated,” Caritas Philippines President Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said last Thursday.

Caritas Philippines Vice President Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, himself a red-tagging target, said the ruling is a vindication for victims like him.

READ: More than a tale of two bishops

“Red-tagging creates a climate of fear and intimidation. In my own diocese of San Carlos, I’ve seen how it can discourage people from speaking out on issues affecting the marginalized,” Alminaza said

“The Court’s decision is a vital step towards protecting Filipinos who advocate for peace and justice,” the prelate added.

“This ruling offers a glimmer of hope and a chance for healing. We urge those who have been red-tagged to seek support and know that they are not alone,” he said.

Caritas Philippines urged the government and the military to uphold the Supreme Court’s decision and ensure the safety of all Filipinos, regardless of their political beliefs,” Bishop Bagaforo concluded. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Despite court protection, Deduro still fears for life ‘amidst impunity’

The petitioner for the writ of amparo granted by the Supreme Court (SC) revealed he still fears for his life despite the protection order given him by the high tribunal.

Former Bayan Muna Representative Siegfred Deduro told Kodao that he remains wary “amidst the continuing impunity in extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and illegal arrests and detention on trumped up charges in our country.”

In the a decision Wednesday, May 8, the tribunal ruled that the red-tagging, vilification, labelling, and guilt by association constitute threats to a person’s right to life, liberty, or security, thus justifying its granting of protection to Deduro.

The SC defines the writ of amparo as “a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.”

In his petition, Deduro said the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army threatened his life by identifying him as a ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, a prevalent practice dubbed as red-tagging.

Red-tagging as well as vilification, labeling, and guilt by association often leads to arbitrary arrests, trumped-up charges and assassinations.

Nonetheless, Deduro said he is glad that the SC decided in his favor despite a regional trial court’s earlier dismissal of the same petition.

“This clearly refutes the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict’s assertion that their rampage of red-tagging of activists is a benign exercise of ‘truth- tagging,’” Deduro said.

“I hope that this landmark SC ruling will benefit thousands of other activists and political dissenters like me who are victims of political persecution and red-tagging,” the former legislator added.

Meanwhile, more groups hailed the SC’s decision, including its definition of red-tagging.

Welcome development

The Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA), the most red-tagged organization across the Cordillera region, welcomed the ruling, saying they hope the country’s justice system will start junking the many trumped-up charges against activists and peoples’ organizations.

The group pointed out that four of its leaders are facing terrorism charges and have exhausted all legal remedies to rid of the designation.

“[B]ut we hope that the current SC ruling on red tagging will once again make justice within the peoples’ reach,” the CPA said.

Public sector unionists also welcomed SC’s ruling, saying it hopes the courts will now grant more writs of amparo to victims of red tagging and other forms of vilification.

The Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) called for the end of red tagging and vilification campaigns against unionists it said “are mostly initiated by elements of the state armed forces.”

COURAGE also urged President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to enact policies guaranteeing the right to self-organize, to collectively bargain and negotiate, and to peaceful concerted action including the right to strike of public sector unionists. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Red-tagging threatens a person’s right to life, SC declares

Red-tagging, vilification, labeling, and guilt by association threaten a person’s right to life, liberty, or security, which may justify the issuance of a writ of amparo, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled.

In a decision released today, the SC ruled in favor of veteran activist and former Bayan Muna Representative Siegfred Deduro who petitioned for relief against red-tagging activities him by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Deduro claimed that on June 19, 2020, in a Iloilo Provincial Peace and Order Council meeting, military officers “explicitly identified (him) as part of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) hierarchy.”

The military officers were then under the command of a Maj. Gen. Eric C. Vinoya of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division based in Panay Island, Deduro’s complaint stated.

The military’s accusations against the veteran activist were later reported by Bombo Radyo Iloilo and the Philippine News Agency.

In his petition for a writ of amparo, Deduro said he was further accused of associating with underground revolutionary groups through posters scattered throughout Iloilo City.

He said he was also tailed by unidentified men who were presumed to be government security personnel.

Deduro earlier filed a similar petition with a lower court but was denied.

The SC in an en banc decision however found prima facie evidence in Deduro’s petion and granted the former legislator’s request for a writ of amparo.

The High Court defined the writ as “a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.”

Deduro has yet to respond to Kodao’s request for a statement on his victory.

Former Bayan Muna Representative Siegfred Deduro. (Photo from his FB account)

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers official Ephraim Cortez said SC’s ruling on the petition and remarks against red-tagging do not make it a criminal offense however.

“Only congress can define and penalize it as a crime. But since it is now interpreted as a threat to life, liberty or security, red tagging may be used as a basis to file a criminal complaint for grave threat defined and penalized under the Revised Penal Code,” Cortez told Kodao.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) meanwhile hailed the SC’s definition of red-tagging as a threat is “on point.”

“We are in unity with the Supreme Court’s view and opinion that red-tagging threatens the right to life, liberty, and security. Our leaders, members, and affiliates are actual victims of red-tagging and even terror tagging and they experienced first-hand the dangers that come with this rights violation often perpetrated by the NTF-ELCAC and their cohorts,” KMP chairperson and red-tagging victim Danilo Ramos said.

The group said the practice often leads to the killing of farmers and peasant leaders and the illegal arrest and detention of activists and civilians who are exercising their freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and right to self-organization.

KMP pointed a finger at the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), created by former President Rodrigo duterte’s Executive Order (EO) 70, as the main perpetrator of red-tagging.

“This latest SC ruling is an added justification for the dismantling of NTF-ELCAC and EO 70’s junking,” KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

RP falls in 2024 press freedom index due to red-tagging, Cumpio’s continuing imprisonment

The Philippines fared worse in the World Press Freedom Index, falling by two points to 134th out of 180 countries this year compared to 132nd in 2023.

Red-tagging and the continued detention of community journalist and broadcaster Frenchie Mae Cumpio were two of the factors in the drop, global press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (Rapporteurs Sans Frontieres, RSF) in its latest report said.

RSF said that while policies under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appear “more consensual” compared to his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, “authorities still often resort to red-tagging.”

The group described red-tagging as a practice inherited from the colonial era and Cold War in which journalists who do not toe the government line are branded as “subversive elements” or “reds.”

“This is tantamount to telling law enforcement that they (critical, independent journalists) are legitimate targets for arbitrary arrest or even summary execution,” RSF explained.

The latest index said the Philippine is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists where impunity for crimes against them “is almost total.”

The Philippines is classified as a “difficult” country while Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland are categorized as “good” alongside Portugal, Finland and Greenland

RSF said that while the Philippine government set up the Presidential Task Force on Media Security in 2016 but the inter-ministerial body has proved “unable to stem the vicious cycle of violence against journalists.”

The index also lists Cumpio as a journalist in detention despite efforts by government prosecutors to paint her as a member of an underground Communist group, the New People’s Army.

Greater concentration in ownership

RSF also said ownership in mainstream media has also recently reached even greater levels of concentration than in the past, “a development accompanied by closer ties between media owning families and political barons at regional and national levels.”

“The ABS-CBN/GMA duopoly is now being challenged by a third media giant, the Villar family’s Villar Group, which is openly affiliated to former President Duterte’s clan,” it said.

The Villars is the country’s richest family that counts among its members senators and representatives in the Philippine Congress.

“Even more worrying is the growing influence of the current President Marcos’s cousin, Martin Romualdez, who is Speaker of the House of Representatives. In 2023, his company, Prime Media, which owns the Manila Standard newspaper, established a joint venture with ABS-CBN’s radio business to gain even more influence,” RSF added.

Romualdez is touted by his supporters to be presidential timber in the 2028 national elections against Vice President Sara Duterte in what is seen as a massive clash of political dynasties who have had presidents among members.

Kodao’s Raymund Villanueva (left) and Danilo Arao (right) at the 2024 World Press Freedom Day Rally last May 3. (Photo by Lito Ocampo/Kodao)

Media safety summit approves declaration

Meanwhile, Philippine independent media organizations and more than a hundred leading journalists and journalism educators from all over the country concluded the two-day First Philippine Media Safety Summit with a declaration affirming independent and critical journalism last May 3, World Press Freedom Day, in Quezon City.

The declaration also condemned the killing of journalist and the lack of resolution of cases as well as the deliberate targeting of journalists and media organizations.

The media safety summit was organized by the Asian Institute for Journalism and Communication, the Center for Community Journalism and Development, the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, the Freedom for Media-Freedom for All Coalition, MindaNews, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Philippine Press Institute.

The summit was joined by the Commission on Human Rights, Internews, the Royal Norwegian Government, various projects under the United Nations in the Philippines as well as Karapatan, College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines and the People’s Alternative Media Network.

The NUJP led a World Press Freedom Day rally at the Boy Scout’s Circle in Quezon City after the declaration’s approval. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

CHR: Red-tagging among threats to press freedom

Red-tagging remains among the most prevalent threats to press freedom that also include violence against journalists and the media in the Philippines, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) reported.

In his keynote speech at the opening of the historic 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit, CHR Chairperson Richard Palpal-latoc said critical journalists are being subjected to red-tagging and surveillance, or are faced with the charges of libel or cyber libel.

“Likewise, the harassment and threats to one’s safety not only affect the journalist himself but also impact the welfare and security of his family and peers,” Palpal-latoc said.

The head of the country’s national human rights institution said the Philippine media landscape continues to be characterized by “evident dangers.”

“Philippine journalism has long been in a vulnerable state and remains to be overlooked despite its role in preserving the core of our democracy,” Palpal-latoc said.

“Being tagged as one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism is sufficient proof that much has yet to be done across all levels and spheres of dialogue,” he added.

Government agencies and officials have been identified by various human rights groups as among the main perpetrators of red-tagging against journalists and other human rights defenders.

READ: CHR tells world of red-tagging, misuse of counter-terror measures

ALSO SEE: Defining, preventing red-tagging

Philippine Press Institute’s Ariel Sebellino and Joyce Panares’ moderate 1st Media Safety Summit opening ceremony. (Supplied photo)

Threats continue under Marcos Jr.

In her presentation, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) executive director Melinda de Jesus said there have at least been 135 incidents of attacks and threats against the media from July 1, 2022 when Marcos Jr. assumed the presidency to April 30, 2024.

The incidents include three killings, 75 cases of intimidation, 15 cyber attacks, 14 incidents of assault and harassment, 8 cyber libel cases have been filed against media workers, seven instances of censorship, five arrests and a case of gun shooting, de Jesus said.

Both the People’s Alternative Media Network  and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) meanwhile called for the immediate freedom of jailed Eastern Vista editor Frenchie Mae Cumpio, the youngest journalist in jail in the world. She is 25 years old.

“Acts of aggression and harassment against the media are an affront to the exercise of press freedom,” Palpal-latoc said.

The ongoing summit being held in Quezon City is organized by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication, Center for Community Journalism and Development, University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Freedom for Media Freedom for All Coalition, MindaNews, NUJP, Peace and Conflict Journalism Network, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Philippine Press Institute.

More than a hundred journalists from all over the Philippines are attending the event.

The country’s first-ever media safety summit ends today, Friday, World Press Freedom Day with a rally at Quezon city’s Boy Scout. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)