Gov’t red-tagging undermines freedom of opinion, IBON tells UN special rapporteur Irene Khan

January 25, 2024

by IBON Foundation

The government’s attacks on IBON and activists aim to stifle critical analysis and the public forming opinions in an informed and reasoned manner. The harassment and vilification of progressive organizations and of IBON in particular, a research group, impinges on the plurality and diversity of information sources for the public to choose from. This hinders the formation of well-informed opinions which poses a broader threat not just to freedom of opinion and expression, but also to democracy and development.

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan met with IBON and various civil society and people’s organizations that submitted reports and shared their experiences of State attacks and suppression of their freedom of expression and opinion.

In its submission, IBON raised the issue of the government’s legal infrastructure for combating alleged terrorists being abused to justify violent and abusive measures against progressives. Many of these measures were put in place by the previous Duterte administration and continue under the Marcos Jr administration. Civic space is also being narrowed and controlled by increasingly stringent requirements and regulations on civil society organizations (CSOs).

IBON spoke of how its information and education work seeks to contribute to more informed opinions by the public in general, of civil society for its organizing and advocacies, and even of the government to give it an alternative perspective and be more responsive to the people’s needs.

IBON shared how it has been harassed and vilified since 2018, first by the Duterte administration and then until today under the Marcos Jr administration. This started with surveillance attempts and fabricated murder charges as well as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on IBON’s website. The most persistent, however, is red-tagging by government spokespersons, military officials and their assets in government websites, official social media accounts, media interviews, Congressional hearings, diplomatic circles and even at the United Nations (UN) itself.

The effectiveness of IBON’s information and education work is critically dependent on the credibility of its research and analysis. The government’s red-tagging of IBON is attempting to undermine this credibility not just among the general public but among the specific governmental, civil society, school and private sector circles that we work in.

The group also raised how the government has been using media group Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) as a major platform for red-tagging. SMNI’s partnership with the Philippine Army wherein the latter provides speakers and information discreetly so as to “preserve the credibility of SMNI as a third-party entity” was mentioned.

IBON joined other groups in recommending that the Executive Order creating the National Task Force to End Local Communism and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) be rescinded.

The group also asked for the government to publicly acknowledge, condemn and stop red-tagging and for those spreading false information and inciting violence to be held accountable. It pointed to numerous complaints and cases already filed with the relevant authorities but are not being acted on, including IBON’s historic first red-tagging complaint in 2020.

The group said that there must be an official apology and retraction for red-tagging and that all instances of this must be removed from government websites. Finally, IBON recommended that the right to information online and offline be strengthened, including providing for maximum disclosure in the public interest.

IBON stressed that the information put in the public domain by progressive researchers and activist groups is an important check to official narratives about the state of the economy and the conditions of the poor and low-income majority of the population. Continued government attacks on those with critical views only sends the message that it is fearful of the people becoming critically informed and politically active.