Tagged, but not it

November 18, 2020

by Casey Salamanca

IBON staff reflect on red-tagging and its effects on ideas of the Left

“Red-tagging” was prominent in the news in the last few weeks. The spokespersons of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), Gen. Antonio Parlade and USec. Lorraine Badoy, and other government officials have been labelling critics of the government as supporters or members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) or its armed wing the New People’s Army.

What the red-tagged organizations and individuals have in common is their vocal criticism of the government’s anti-people policies and demanding accountability. Most of them also propose doable solutions to the problems raised.

Red-tagging – or the practice of branding individuals or organizations as communists especially by the state – has long been used against Left-leaning organizations. During the Arroyo administration, under pressure from the US government, the term “communist” was equated with “terrorist”. Ergo, if you are tagged as communist, the validity of the issues and advocacies you raise are put aside and what remains is the personal attack of being a “terrorist”.

This jeopardizes the safety and lives of activists and rights advocates. Red-tagging has tended to be followed by rights violations such as the filing of trumped-up charges, enforced disappearances and even extrajudicial killings. People’s issues raised, meanwhile, are left unaddressed.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism as “a policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorizing or condition of being terrorized”. It is a term associated with widespread fear, killings, and pacification. Ironically, it is the state’s “counter-terrorism” policy that spreads terror and fear.

Seeing Red everywhere

The last four years of the Duterte administration has been a growing war against the poor. There is also impunity, giving up the country’s sovereignty, corruption, unprecedented economic crisis, unscientific and disorganized COVID-19 response, disaster unpreparedness, and peddling of fake news. The condition of the majority of Filipino families has unambiguously worsened under this administration.

The public has justifiably criticized the administration because it has revealed itself as anti-people. The government, after all, is answerable to its people and it is everyone’s right to demand accountability and better governance.

Yet, instead of listening to the demands of the people and genuinely addressing the worsening economic and political crises, Pres. Duterte and his clique are using authoritarian rule to suppress all kinds of dissent.

It has resorted to red-scare tactics to silence its critics. This administration has been engaged in various forms of red-tagging – from its Red October Matrix, Ouster Plot, Lists of Red universities and colleges, red-tagging of activists and rights advocates, red-tagging of personalities vocal about their advocacies, continuous red-tagging in social media by members and officers of the NTF-ELCAC, and its infamous European Union propaganda road-show.

The government’s accusations lack valid evidence. They only present questionable information including outright lies.

They are also on top of relentless extrajudicial killings and filing of trumped-up charges against farmers, rights activists, environmental defenders, and even peace advocates. Lest we forget, there have already been at least two massacres of farmers and farmworkers under this administration.

The president and his ilk are using their high-budget red-tagging spree to shift attention from the people’s issues being raised to personal attacks against the personalities and organizations raising them.

Their propaganda insists that being Red equates to terrorism. But what do these words really mean?

Why the “Red” in red-tagging?

The term Red was coined to refer to communists and came from the color of the then-Soviet Union’s flag. Currently, it is used interchangeably with the term “Left” to refer to individuals or organizations with progressive ideals.

The political labels left-wing and right-wing also have an interesting origin. The terms are from the literal seating arrangement of two opposing sides during the French Revolution. In the drafting of the new constitution, delegates were divided over the amount of power the King is allowed to hold. The conservatives in favor of giving the King the right to an absolute veto were seated at the presiding officer’s right, while those with the progressive and radical view of limiting the King’s power were seated at the left.

The term “Left” has come to be used to refer to those believing and advocating a progressive and radical point of view. It pertains to individuals or groups advocating social change. Among the biggest radical steps towards social change happened during the socialist revolutions in Russia and China. Socialism and the push for communism is the anti-thesis of the currently dominant capitalism.

In their efforts to preserve themselves, capitalist countries headed by the US demonized socialism and communism and even communist personalities themselves (the image of Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin was even used to portray the devil in a book cover). This propaganda war became rampant especially during the Cold War.

Anti-communists capitalized on the success of capitalist roaders in Russia and China in derailing their respective people’s revolutions. They used this to tarnish socialism and communism, downplaying how the present capitalist Russia and China were actually built on the foundations provided by socialist construction before.

The point is that with the demonization of communism, all advocacies for radical social change were placed in one basket. Defenders of the status quo favoring a few rich over the poor majority brand vital demands as Red or Left: land for the farmers, just wages, safe working conditions, end to poverty, safe housing, respect for human rights, environmental preservation, right to education, and other just and reasonable demands.

But these are labeled as communist ideas which they insist equals terrorism. If you think about it, we shouldn’t even have to demand these things because these are rights that everyone is entitled to.

And so, ironically, the status quo of the “democracy” we have is repressive, authoritarian, and fascist. Against a backdrop of widespread poverty and stark inequality, the rights of the people are trampled on– from the freedom of expression, association, and assembly and even the right to life.

Red-tagging is intended to instill fear, quell dissent, and control the population. It is dangerous.

And with the passage of the draconian new Anti-Terrorism Law, this danger is magnified. This heavily contested law has a very vague definition of what terrorism is and gives so much power to the anti-terror council. The flimsiest evidence of supporting or being a member of a terrorist group is suddenly lawful reason to arrest and detain an individual, even without any case in court.

Being red

I am an activist.

It started when I was in college. I got curious and started asking questions. Are only smart people and those able to pay entitled to an education? Why are we afraid of going to the hospital for a check-up? Is corruption the root cause of our country’s problems? Is the US government and its military power our salvation? I know a lot of brilliant engineers and scientists but why can’t we develop our own technology or industry? What is neoliberalism? Should I care for others?

Are we a doomed nation and is there nothing we can do to change our situation? This last question is perhaps the most threatening to the powers that be.

Because activism provides an answer. Activism provides hope. Activism does not just criticize, it suggests “Left” alternatives that are doable and will benefit the majority of the country’s population.

Land to the tillers. Just wages and safe working conditions for workers. Ending contractualization. Create sustainable and meaningful jobs. Education for all. Flatten the curve, raise the bar. Protect the environment from corporate greed. Recognize the national minority’s right to self-determination. Independent foreign policy.

But all of these valid calls are drowned by hysterical accusations of being a “Communist-front”, “Komonesta”, “Makakaliwa”, “NPA-supporter”, and “terorista”. These barriers are set up to stop issues from being heard. That is what the propaganda of red-tagging is all about – to invalidate the bearer of the message instead of addressing the issues being raised and their root causes.

The peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines brought to the forefront the reasons for the five decades of armed conflict in the country. But these were terminated.

Most of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement for Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), which was on the negotiating table before the peace talks were shut down, are also the demands raised by various organizations. Does this similarity invalidate these demands? I don’t think so. On the contrary, this validates the justness and people-centeredness of these demands. Too bad though that peace saboteurs abound inside this administration.

Who is it?

We at IBON Foundation are not spared from red-tagging. Our offices have been subjected to surveillance. NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Badoy became meme material when she harassed and red-tagged our Research Head on national television. Our Executive Director is also frequently red-tagged in social media. The military even claimed, falsely, that a young NPA martyr was a member of IBON Foundation before joining the armed struggle.

I have known IBON since my high school days through its Facts and Figures Journal. I never felt that these journals were encouraging me to be a terrorist. All they did was explain issues that are mostly economics or current events-related. they taught me to care about what’s happening around me.

And it’s still what we try to do – ask the most important questions for the Filipino people and try to find the answers. I guess our work does terrorize some, especially those who benefit from the answers remaining buried deep beneath their factory of lies.

I was scanning Laura Westra’s “Faces of State Terrorism” and I found this quote: “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Times like these make being “Red” necessary and it is possible to change our future because we deserve better. And soon enough it won’t be impossible to defeat those who actually spread terror.

We’re tagged as terrorists but we are definitely not it.