3 senators underscore adverse effects of red-tagging or labelling

Published November 3, 2020, 8:30 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senators on Tuesday raised anew concerns over the alleged red-tagging and labeling by government officials, one of them saying that such activities could lead to the suppression of ideas and beliefs of the minority.

“The problem with red-tagging, or whatever labels, whether one is automatically called a communist or a fascist, is that it sweeps the message under the label of the rug,” Senator Grace Poe said during the oversight hearing of the Senate defense committee on the issue.

“The problem with ‘identity marking’ is that it suppresses debate on an idea. We easily close our minds. It is an attempt to automatically disenfranchise people who may hold unpopular belief. And we should always remember our Constitution extends protection even to minority ideas which we disagree with,” she added.

Poe said that while she believes that ideologies must be pursued without resorting to arms and violence, she said “all colors” should still be represented in political discourse.

“We lose that rich diversity if politics is monopolized by one color only,” she said.

“Instead of debating, tagging is like painting the Star of David or the sign of the cross on the homes of persecuted Christians and Jews. So when people call a person Stalin or even a general, Hitler, then your personalities are reduced to labels which are unfair to both groups,” she noted.

“And that is the unfortunate ecosystem we are in today…We look for the motive instead of the message. ‘DDS ‘yan o Dilawan ‘yan,’ end of discussion na kaagad. Debates don’t get elevated. More often it is a race to the gutter,” she added.

“The problem with red-tagging or any sort of labelling, aside from the examples I have mentioned above, it is often a  ‘dog whistle’ that is a prelude to acts of suppression,” she said.

Poe likened this to the so-called “cancel culture” but a “Pinoy version,” wherein personalities are first tagged as an outcast.

“I will besmirch you first, and having cast you a Pariah, then you will be evicted out of the democratic space, either by social ostracism, or worse, detention or the ultimate form of censorship, which is death,” she said for instance.

“If the mere intention of red-tagging is to marginalize, then that’s par for the course but if it becomes a clear and present physical danger to the tagged, then there lies the big problem,” she said.

“And that tactic has limits, and often backfires,” she said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan also expressed “serious concern” on the presentation of government defense officials that persistently linked activism to the armed communist movement.

In the hearing, officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict reiterated their claims that progressive groups were being used as a front to recruit youths into joining the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) armed wing.

“I’m very concerned about some of the video materials presented, particularly the matter on student activist, it may be true to a certain extent that student activist ended up being killed because they participated or they became part of the NPA,” Pangilinan, also a student activist himself, said.

“That is not the whole truth, Mr Chairman. Sen Risa Hontiveros and myself, we were both activists. We were both student leaders during the Marcos regime and we are senators today. So simplistic, sweeping generalization, Mr. Pesident, I feel is presenting half-truths,” he added.

Pangilinan said that while some members of left-leaning organizations indeed get killed for joining the NPA, “it is also true that not all student-activists become NPA.”

Hontiveros agreed with Pangilinan, saying she was proud of being a former student activist.

Aside from this, Hontiveros also hit the military officials’ repeated mention of members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives as part of the communist movement.

“Though I have had many political disagreements with some of the legislators mentioned in the presentation, I take exception on the numerous times they have been mentioned in those presentations. Given that they are not present here… that under the same parliamentary principles that the chair highlighted for the committee, I do take exception that our counterparts in the lower house have been mentioned derogatorily,” she said.

In a joint statement read to the Senate panel, Bayan Muna Party-list Representatives Carlos Zarate, Eufemia Cullamat and Ferdinand Gaite, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas, ACT Teachers’ Partylist Rep. France Castro and Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Jane Elago maintained that they are pushing for legitimate concerns and interests of the people, saying that claims that they are part of the armed communist movement are “lies.”

They said they “fought and succeeded in pushing for concrete reforms that improved the lives of millions of Filipinos” such as the increase in wages, pension, and benefits, free education and lower charges for water and power consumption.

The congressmen urged members of the Senate panel not to allow themselves to be used in the “red-tagging and terrorist-tagging” by government officials.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, distanced from the views of his colleagues, saying that “the views and opinions and actions expressed by some of our colleagues, do not in any way reflect and represent the views of the entire Senate.”

“I just want to place that on record,” Sotto said during the hearing.