IBON staff reflect on red-tagging and its attack on the ideas of the Left
Last week, as floodwaters reached a new high to trap thousands of Filipinos on the roofs of their homes and force hundreds of thousands more to evacuate, red-tagging reached a new low.
The nation struggled to mobilize help beyond what the government was giving but the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) saw it as just another day at work to whine about Reds. It tried to dissuade donations for relief work of youth activists, took a swipe at CNN Philippines for being infiltrated, and even thought it worthwhile to meddle in a call for support among co-parents in a high school group chat.
The sad episode is a case study of the depths the Duterte government goes to in calling people Communists or terrorists and organizations as fronts or infiltrated. The hysterical claim last week is that the call for donations is “extorting money and goods to fund and support their terrorist activities”. Go figure.
But it also prompts deeper reflection on what red-tagging is and why we all lose from it. It isn’t the mere labelling that the government and its security apparatus like to pretend it is and which, they insist, even the Left does to itself. Red-tagging is labelling to attack not just people and organizations but also the very ideas and values so needed to make tomorrow better than today.
Fear of ducks
These are the coordinates of their lunacy: Communists are terrorists, Communist ideas a.k.a. Leftist ideas are passé, and anyone spouting Leftist ideas is a terrorist or a brainwashed puppet.
But the thing is, with the world and the country the way they are, it’s obvious what anyone concerned about humanity will cherish for their absence – social justice, equality, and a decent life for all. An honest grasp of history, politics and economics also points to what’s needed for these values to become real – people taking control of society and their lives.
Drilling down further shows what makes ‘Reds’ look, swim and quack like the ducks that elites fear so much – the rejection of capitalism, redistribution of wealth, and the imagining (or even building) of a socialist alternative. There’s a diversity of ducks but these feathers are the same.
Reds proudly embrace these ideas, and are famously relentless in putting these ideas into practice as conditions allow. They wear their red hearts on their sleeves and wave their red flags, literally and figuratively, because it isn’t enough for the ideas to be compelling. They have to be grasped and embraced and practiced by as many people as possible.
Which brings us back to red-tagging. Leftist ideas are the floodwaters of social change but instead of homes of the poor they wash away the structures of power. These waters are rising – maybe not like a storm surge but rising inexorably nonetheless.
Red-tagging aims to put a stop to that. Starting with activists and their organizations, including their supporters, and then really anyone daring to think differently and taking a stand. It wants to reduce radical ideas to a trickle of disembodied voices embellishing a fake democracy but threatening no one.
Progressive ideas will be tolerated if spoken from armchairs or as rhetoric in speeches and policy-making. But red flags are raised when these ideas are connected to each other and, especially, when they’re borne by the organized power of politicized Filipinos in a mass movement for change.
Capitalism and wannabe authoritarians don’t want that. They need a blind and docile public that doesn’t question why the economy leaves them behind, nor that opposes unrelenting corruption and the abuse of power.
The Duterte administration is averse to Leftist ideas but is incapable of arguing against them beyond shrill banalities. The government admits as much whenever it laments losing the “propaganda war,” as verbalized by the NTF-ELCAC, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), and even a militarist senator.
What they don’t see and can’t concede is that they’re losing because they’re on the wrong side of history – so they’ve gone duck hunting instead.
This wouldn’t be a problem if they were going after armed ducks. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-led New People’s Army (NPA) is waging armed revolution in the countryside and, for that, is prepared for an equally armed response. The state can’t seem to defeat them in the battlefield and is in a virtual stalemate but that’s another story.
The problem is that the Duterte administration is going after anything that quacks, wherever they might be, even if they aren’t doing anything illegal in their advocacies, projects, humanitarian work, law-making, and fiscalizing. In a back-handed compliment, the state is starting with the biggest, most influential, and deepest-rooted mainstream Left forces. The calculation may be that if the powerful radical flank is broken then moderates become more manageable.
The new Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) is bringing a tactical nuke cannon to a duck hunt with the same kind of widespread and excessive damage. Red-tagging today is in cheap posters and flyers, bad PowerPoint presentations, loose media statements, and troll-like social media posts.
The ATL will make red-tagging graduate from these – bypassing courts where they’d just be a mess of inadmissible evidence – to become the first step towards thinly ‘legalized’ surveillance, freezing of assets, warrantless arrests, and indefinite detention. The brazen abductions and assassinations by shadowy state security forces before the new law will still continue.
Red-taggers won’t admit it but they know they would never win a battle of ideas. So they fight with twisted fantasies instead and bank on sheer repetition using the vast propaganda apparatus of the government.
Armed Reds and Leftist activists, or armed Leftists and Red activists, are crudely lumped together — this only exposes that it’s Red and Left ideas that they fear most of all. The NTF-ELCAC’s banal propagandists think that they’ve stumbled on irrefutable wisdom and repeat this ad nauseam.
A Philippines that would be idyllic if not for the renegade violence of NPA bandits in the countryside? As if it isn’t the government that’s been killing tens of thousands of alleged drug offenders and unarmed activists. The Duterte government’s state-sponsored and -sanctioned violence against civilians kills more than the guerrilla war does in the countryside.
Families blissfully happy if not for youth brainwashed to hate their parents? As if children, youth and students can’t see for themselves how their families and many others are exploited while a fraction have uncountable wealth and luxury. Our best and brightest love their country and their families. Their choices come from maturity and deserve respect.
Activists whose real agenda is hate, death and destruction? As if they aren’t among the most consistently compassionate, dedicated and productive defenders of human rights or enablers of oppressed and exploited folks wherever they might be. The self-sacrifice is out of a deep love for others.
Lumad communities in picturesque harmony if not for NPA recruiters? As if they don’t know that soldiers and paramilitary goons pave the way for mining, logging and energy projects that won’t benefit the Lumad communities. The government exploits the Lumad many times over when they are paraded as propaganda props.
The NPA are rapists, murderers and extortionists? As if a roving army of such deviants could survive for decades, attracting idealistic youth and getting the support of rural communities knowing them and seeing for themselves who they are.
And an economy made poor by Communist armed conflict? As if the economy wasn’t poor before the rise of rebellion, and isn’t kept poor by neoliberal policy incantations from worshipers of the Gods of Capitalism. And as if the most rapid economic growth in decades hasn’t benefited oligarchs, government functionaries, and foreign capital while leaving the majority poor and farther behind than ever.
The red pill
Part of red-tagging is the Duterte government wanting us to take the blue pill. To swallow their disinformation, stay ignorant, and live in the confines of an unjust, unequal and unchanging world. It’s a pill to make people not just clueless but ultimately helpless and hopeless.
The red pill, on the other hand, frees us from the enslaving control of thinking that there is no alternative to capitalism and the status quo. It affirms the working class coming together as the most powerful force for change for the better.
It also makes us see how everything is commodified where the presidency, elections, legislators and laws, even the judiciary can be bought. And how oligarchs, foreign investors, business cronies, and government officials have become wealthier – as well how the wealth of the president and his family has become suspiciously invisible.
At one level, the NTF-ELCAC propagandists are just indoctrinated military personnel and folks with a quasi-religious devotion to the president (or maybe just a crush). At a deeper level, the NTF-ELCAC is the spearhead of the system trying to put down dissent and the rising waters of social revolution.
A line is being drawn in the dolomite sand. But it isn’t between those for or against ‘Communist-terrorists’ – it’s between those embracing or enabling the status quo and those choosing to change this for the better. More than ever, it’s time to take sides.