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Red tagging of human rights defenders distracts from government accountability- iDEFEND/PAHRA

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) and the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) condemn the latest attempt by government agents to disseminate false information and libelous claims against human rights defenders. Similar to the red tagging of PAHRA by the 303rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army last April, anonymous groups disseminated on social media, a poorly constructed ‘matrix’ identifying Ritz Lee Santos III as part of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas.

On Sunday Santos posted on his facebook timeline an “illustration board” identifying him as a member of the PKP because he organized a rally protesting the Anti-Terrorism Law. The material held no further proof nor details of these accusations. Other human rights lawyers and media personalities in Mindanao were also wrongfully accused as supporters of terrorists.

Contrary to these allegations, in fact, Santos is a board member of Amnesty International, iDEFEND’s Steering Committee member and Executive Director of Balaod Mindanaw, a member organization of PAHRA and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).

Last week, hundreds of cloned accounts of protesting students also appeared on social media, some of which have appropriated their photos and their online data.

Religious leader Sr. Mary John Mananzan has been repeatedly accused by PCOO Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy of being a high-ranking member of a terrorist organization.

In 2018 President Duterte tagged more than 600 personalities of being members of the communist party including former UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, in an attempt to activate a witch hunt using the Human Security Act, which has since been replaced by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The accusations drew national and international criticism for putting human rights defenders’ lives at risk and has prompted the UN Secretary General to suggest a psychiatric examination for Duterte.

Likewise, the Foreign Affairs Department has led missions overseas to vilify legitimate civil society organizations as terrorists to try and stem financial and material support for their activities. In local areas posters have been put up in public places pointing to community organizers and activists as terrorists including church workers, students and lawyers.

The government’s fake news and terrorist tagging machinery, including vigilante groups, are ‘locked and loaded’ for the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, following which we believe, will be head on assaults on public dissent and political opposition.

In the midst of a global pandemic which has exposed the serious incompetence of government’s crisis management – failed lockdowns, unaccounted billions for COVID19 response, plummeting economic conditions, corruption at the highest levels in agencies dealing with the pandemic, erratic and uncoordinated decision making- government prioritized the doubling down on political repression and “lawfare” against its own citizens.

Government does this to escape accountability for its failures. It mobilizes the national security apparatus to tag people into silence, while it continues to blame the people for the increase in COVID cases, for the economic collapse, for terrorism.

However, the people will not be denied of their rights, and the people will not give up their voices. We will join them, we will raise them, and we will be louder- against injustice, violence, tyranny. Until finally the new despot and his new cronies, meet the fate of his predecessor.