CHR flags AFP's 'distribution to students of red-tagging pamphlets'

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has expressed its "deep worries" over reports that members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) distributed "red-tagging pamphlets" to students during a recent seminar held at Taytay Senior High School in Rizal.

The pamphlets seemed to point out that the recruiters of the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army (CPP-NPA) "could be found at protests" and are "teaching people to despise government," the CHR said.

In a statement, the CHR said the distribution of the pamphlets is deeply worrying as it resorts to "arbitrary labeling."

"While the CHR is one with the State in preserving and protecting the country’s peace and security through the adoption of policies countering the threats of terrorism and underground armed rebellion, we believe that it is still essential to raise awareness about the potential dangers of arbitrary labeling," the CHR said. 

"We should also focus on sustainable solutions and measures that address these problems, ensuring that security efforts do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of individuals," it said.

At the same time, the CHR said the distribution of the pampletes also sends a wrong message about rallying, since protests and peaceful dissents are fundamental human rights. 

It cited Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that "no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."

"Participating in protest and dissent are forms of public expression used to voice grievances, not to identify themselves as part of an insurgency or communist armed rebellion. Regardless of political orientation and ideology, participating in a protest is an exercise of fundamental human rights, allowing individuals to express their concerns and demand change," the CHR pointed out. 

It was the Kabataan Party-List which reported the pamphlet distribution by the members of the AFP's 80th Infantry Battalion (IB). The pamphlets, which the partylist dubbed as "brainwashing pamphlets," bore drawings of students wearing red shirts that reportedly blame everything bad on the government and can be spotted in rallies.

The CHR took note of the response on the pamphlet distribution made by the National Security Council's (NSC) which refuted the allegations and stated that it is only for informing students about indicators that they are being recruited by communist rebel group organizers.

It acknowledged the importance of protecting the welfare and safety of students. However, it is essential that these efforts "do not stigmatize legitimate expressions of dissent," it stressed. 

It then urged all Filipinos, particularly those in security forces, to refrain from disseminating what it described as "misconstrued" information that could hinder the freedom to protest or compromise the safety of individuals exercising their democratic rights.

It said: "The Commission remains committed to its Constitutional mandate to protect the rights of all. We believe that participation in peaceful protests should not be misconstrued as an endorsement of insurgency or joining an underground armed movement. Instead, it is a legitimate and protected means for people to seek redress from the government, integral to maintaining a healthy and responsive democracy,"

Earlier, the Supreme Court (SC) had declared that red-tagging, vilification, labelling, and guilt by association threaten a person’s right to life, liberty or security and may justify the issuance of the court’s protective order.

The SC also said: 

“Red-tagging has been acknowledged by international organizations as a form of harassment and intimidation. As early as 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council observed the prevalence of a practice in the Philippines where groups at the left of the political spectrum are characterized as front organizations of anti-democratic groups. The report called the practice ‘vilification,’ ‘labelling,’ or guilt by association.

“More than a decade after, red-tagging also transitioned to online social media platforms like Facebook. As noted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in its Annual Report dated 29 June 2020, labelling certain groups or persons as ‘reds’ oftentimes came with frequent surveillance and direct harassment.

“Some received death threats either through text or online direct messages. A number of women activists have reported being threatened with rape or other forms of sexual assault. While some of these red-labelling remained as threats, the report also noted that some of those red-tagged individuals were eventually killed.

“Just last year, various United Nations special rapporteurs made a public plea to stop the practice of red-tagging in the country, stating: ‘Human rights defenders in the Philippines continue to be red-tagged, labelled as 'terrorists' and ultimately killed in attempts to silence them and delegitimize their human rights work. This must end.’

“The foregoing accounts of red-tagging depict it as a likely precursor to abduction or extrajudicial killing. Being associated with communists or terrorists makes the red-tagged person a target of vigilantes, paramilitary groups, or even State agents. Thus, it is easy to comprehend how a person may, in certain circumstances, develop or harbor fear that being red-tagged places his or her life or security in peril."