Press Statement

As a Senate committee  begins its inquiry  into the issue on 3 November 2020, Amnesty International calls on the Philippine government to end its vicious and at times deadly practice of red-tagging- the labeling of groups or individuals perceived to be critical of the government as “communists” or “terrorists”. Instead of maligning and endangering people for the lawful exercise of their freedom of expression, the government should seek to address legitimate criticism of its policies and practices. In the prevailing context where red-tagged individuals become the targets of harassment, threats and even killings, courts and pertinent  government agencies must take concrete steps to ensure the safety and protection  of these individuals.

On 21 October, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. warned Filipino  celebrity  Liza Soberano in a Facebook post that she would “suffer  the same fate” as Josephine Anne Lapira, who was killed  in a clash in 2017 between government forces and alleged members of the communist New People’s Army. This followed Soberano’s expression of support for women’s rights organization and political party Gabriela, calling on influencers  to speak up about the rights of women and children.

Parlade also publicly announced that former and current Congressional representatives of progressive party-list  groups, including Gabriela, are under surveillance  for being “card-bearing members of the Communist  Party of the Philippines” (CPP), adding that the anti-terror  law is now “in  effect”. Parlade is the commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Southern Luzon Command and spokesperson of the government-created National Task Force to End Local Communist  Armed Conflict  (NTF-ELCAC).

The phenomenon of red-tagging has been happening for decades now but has intensified in the last few years under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, following the breakdown of peace talks between the government and the CPP in 2017. Duterte’s subsequent  Executive Order (EO) 70 provides for a “Whole-of-Nation approach in defeating the Local Communist Terrorist Groups” and led to the creation of the NTF-ELCAC. Observers point to this moment in time as the beginning of a renewed campaign of red-tagging, threats and harassment against human rights defenders, political activists,  lawyers, trade unionists and other targeted groups perceived to be affiliated with the progressive left.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights along with human rights organizations have called for the immediate  end to this approach, expressing concern that the government’s dangerously broad counter-insurgency  strategy has led to an increase in human rights violations against human rights defenders and political activists  across the country.

Amnesty International  remains deeply concerned by increasing cases of killings, as well as the arbitrary arrests and detention  of red-tagged individuals. Recent examples of killings include  the murder of activist and peace advocate Randall Echanis on 10 August 2020 and human rights defender  Zara Alvarez on 17 August 2020. Echanis and Alvarez were among the hundreds of individuals named in a “terrorist” list drawn up by the Department of Justice and submitted to a Philippine court. Other political activists and human rights defenders have been arrested and detained following  raids in their offices by security forces that allegedly involved fabrication  of evidence, such as the planting  of firearms and explosives. Those still  detained include  Reina Mae Nasino, a community  organizer for Kadamay, an advocacy group for the urban poor. During her detention  in October 2020, Nasino’s three-month-old baby died after being separated from her and the incident  sparked public outrage. Amnesty International  is concerned that killings, arrests and detention  of political activists and human rights defenders will continue  as long as indiscriminate red-tagging by the government persists.

Amnesty International  is also concerned that the recent approval of the alarming implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of  Republic  Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism  Act of 2020 provides the government further  unchecked powers to unduly target anyone who may be red-tagged under the legislation. The IRR, for example, gives power to an Anti-Terrorism Council- composed of presidential  appointees- to publish  the names of those it designates on its own as “terrorists”. This practice is in contravention  of international  standards on due process and the presumption of innocence, with the only right of appeal being to the Council itself.  It allows a pre-charge detention  period of a maximum  of 24 days, which greatly exceeds norms under international standards. The law remains in violation  of international  standards on human rights and counter­ terrorism with its vague and overbroad definitions of ‘terrorism’, highlighting the risk that it can be used to target government critics. In addition, it empowers security forces to conduct surveillance,  endangering individuals’ right to privacy.

Amnesty International  calls on the Philippine government to end the “red-tagging” of civil  society organizations and political activists  and cease violence and threats of violence against them. The government should ensure adequate protection  for those who have been red-tagged, and bring those responsible for threats and violence to justice in fair trials.  Philippine authorities  should also publicly instruct  their officials to end the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and activists simply  for exercising their rights or carrying out human rights work.

Under international  law and standards, the Philippines has an obligation  to ensure the protection of the rights of all, including the rights to life, freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly, as guaranteed by the International  Covenant on Civil and Political  Rights (ICCPR) to which the Philippines is a state party. Ensuring that human rights defenders and civil  society activists  are able to undertake their professional activities free from harassment, threats, and harm is an essential component  of the promotion and protection  of human rights in the country.

Finally, the organization urges the government to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism  Act and its implementing rules and regulations are amended and brought in line with  international  standards on counter-terrorism, and not used to unduly target those that are red-tagged by the Duterte administration.