By LUISA SANDOVAL
MANILA — For union leader Roselle Eugenio, it only took one government-issued memorandum for her life to change.
On March 10, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) released a memorandum advising government agencies to initiate an investigation of employees who are members of the umbrella organization of labor unions COURAGE.
“It is advised further, to fend off and discourage existing employees association or organization in your office to affiliate with known Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) organization,” the memorandum read.
Eugenio, president of SENADO, the union of government employees in the Philippine Senate, is among those accused by state forces as alleged leaders, recruiters, or members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
At 54, Eugenio has dedicated almost half of her life in service to SENADO. It is apparent that the red-tagging against her is also an attack on unionism in the government sector.
Facing the fear
Eugenio was named by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Spokesperson Lorraine Badoy as among the “operatives” of the CPP and NPA.
To Eugenio, there are baseless accusations that do not even have proper research. She was identified as a male in Badoy’s column, calling her a “he”.
“She does not even know me…She claimed that I am the eyes and ears ng CPP-NPA,” Eugenio told Bulatlat in an online interview.
Eugenio could not help but feel scared.
“Of course, I was afraid. At that time, I was also in quarantine. I have not yet surpassed my health problem when the red-tagging intensified,” Eugenio said.
The red-tagging incident also affected her family. Upon hearing the accusations hurled against her, Eugenio’s mother insisted that she stop joining the union.
Eugenio told her family it is part of her job as president of the union. “Of course they continue to worry about my safety but in the end, they cannot stop me,” she said.
With a union to lead, and members to look after, Eugenio said that she decided to keep going because she knew she was fighting for the truth.
“Who would not feel afraid when you are wrongfully accused? But of course, I have no choice but to assert the legitimacy of what we are fighting for, of our principles which do not violate the law,” Eugenio said in Filipino.
Eugenio was once president of SENADO back from 2010 to 2013. Two years ago, she was again elected as president.
It was during Eugenio’s term that the union gained victories. They were able to raise employee benefits such as transportation and education assistance, increase the salary grade of drivers, provide free mass testing to Senate employees, and have Civil Service Commission (CSC) review classes for the employees who will take the CSC test, among others.
Courage Secretary General Manuel Baclagon also said that red-tagging affects the unions. He said that there were times when some of their members became hesitant in joining their activities due to the red-tagging.
But when members experience doubts or fears, Baclagon said that they talk and explain to their members that what they are doing is legal and just.
“We are fighting for jobs, salaries and rights as workers. There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing,” said Baclagon.
Courage has about 200 affiliate unions and employees’ associations from government agencies, local government units, state colleges and universities and government-owned and controlled corporations in the country.
Under the Philippine Constitution, workers have the right to self-organize, collective bargain and negotiate and have peaceful concerted activities like the right to strike. But despite these constitutional assurances, unions like SENADO and Courage still experience attacks like red-tagging that affect their rights as workers.
Eugenio could not agree more with Baclagon. “I need to remind our officers and members that the attacks against me is also an attack on SENADO, aiming to silence unionists, activists, and to prevent us from airing our grievances,” Eugenio said.
Amid all the forms of attacks that were made to discredit and stain her name, Eugenio said she continues to stand tall because of her main source of inspiration— her union mates.
“Fear is still there, but the need to stand by our principles always wins. We also need to continue campaigning for the welfare of our fellow government workers,” said Eugenio.
On one hand, there is also a need to make the workers understand that their union struggle branches out to the other struggles faced by the nation and other sectors in the country, Eugenio said.
“This is not a local concern but part of the larger issues faced by other sectors, that this [red-tagging] is part of a national policy,” the union leader said.
The female union leader said the red-tagging she experienced still could not compare to the lives sacrificed by other activists.
“This is nothing compared to the martyrs who gave up their lives. They are among our inspiration,” said Eugenio.
Both Eugenio and Baclagon support the moves to criminalize red-tagging.
The Makabayan bloc filed a bill in the House of Representatives that seeks to penalize and criminalize red-tagging.
“The victims live in constant fear for their lives, liberty and security. Adding insult to injury, even their families suffer the same. They deliberately singled out as the public is conditioned that they must have done something wrong to justify an extrajudicial punishment,” the bill read.
For a red-tagging victim, Eugenio said it is just rightful that a bill penalizing the act of red-tagging is passed into law.
She also maintained that the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) of 2020 legitimizes the attacks and accusations towards progressive groups and individuals.
The law allows government-appointed Anti-Terrorism Council to tag any person or group they suspect as “terrorist” without any solid basis, she said.
Baclagon said that he believes there is nothing wrong with being leftist. What is wrong, he said, is that the red-tagging itself violates the constitutional rights of the people to organize, to express their grievances, and to voice out their beliefs.
This article was updated on Aug. 19, 2021, 10:30 p.m. to correct the last name of Ms. Eugenio.