Editorial: Call out red-tagging

“Red-tagging” labels individuals or groups as members or sympathizers of the left-wing insurgency, exposing them to the risks of harassment, bodily harm and death from counterinsurgency entities and vigilantes operating with government collusion.

According to a May 5, 2022 article posted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a US-based non-profit organization exposing global violations of the freedom of the press, red-tagging was already carried out against critics of the administration of President Gloria Arroyo.

For the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), a prominent target during the Duterte administration, labeling critics as communist became a “de facto state policy under President Rodrigo Duterte to conflate legitimate protest with rebellion and terrorism.”

In the same CPJ article, NUJP secretary general Jonathan de Santos said that the red-tagging of journalists and other government critics was “more common and because of social media more widespread under the Duterte administration.”

Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., red-tagging continues, most recently with Lorraine Badoy, a communications undersecretary and spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) under the Duterte administration.

Badoy recently tagged Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar as a “friend and defender” of communist rebels shortly after the presiding judge of the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19 dismissed the Department of Justice’s petition to declare and outlaw the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorists.

According to a Sept. 27 report on Rappler.com, Badoy posted about killing Judge Malagar based on her “political belief that all allies of the CPP NPA NDF (sic) must be killed because there is no difference in (her) mind between a member of the CPP NPA NDF and their friends.”

Without presenting evidence, Badoy also tagged the judge’s husband University of the Philippines Cebu Chancellor Leo Malagar as a communist cadre. Her Facebook post on Sept. 27, with these allegations, has been deleted.

Red-tagging was carried out as “de facto official government policy” with the 2018 creation of the NTF-ELCAC by the Duterte administration, asserted the CPJ. Comprised of former government and military officials, the NTF-ELCAC uses social media to link journalists, community pantry organizers, activists, lawyers and civil society organizations with the communist rebellion, which the task force claims to be a major menace in attaining “inclusive and sustainable peace.”

The red-tagging of the Malagar couple has been denounced by several civil society organizations that point out the irresponsibility of Badoy to not just make claims that are unsupported by evidence but also jeopardize the privacy and security of the subjects of red-tagging.

The news website Rappler reports that under the Duterte administration, “at least 66 lawyers were killed—14 of whom were former or current prosecutors, while nine were retired or former judges and justices.”

Even after the red-tagging posts are deleted or denied, repercussions occur and remain unchecked in online discourse. The ABS-CBN reported that after Badoy claimed and denied her allegations about the Malagars, several fan pages also red-tagged the UP Cebu chancellor.

The red-tagging initiated by a public figure or news personality snowballs into an online campaign spreading disinformation and hatred against not just the targets but also the institutions they represent.

Through their professions and their work, the Malagars represent the courts and the university. In a reversal of values, the rule of law and scholarship become, in the manipulation of parties weaponizing the internet, framed as destabilizers of security and corrupters of society.

This insidious displacement of values threatens social order and social justice, the very foundations of genuine peace and humanity.