By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The recent red-tagging made by President Duterte and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict is meant to intimidate the political opposition, according to progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), and this has translated to harassment and even physical harm.
Bayan noted the attacks on members of progressive groups in the past months such as the arrest of a Makabayan leader in Cagayan, the removal of campaign materials of presidential aspirant Vice President Leni Robredo or Oplan Baklas, the “continuing state-backed trolling and demonization of partylist groups and candidates under the Makabayan coalition,” and just last weekend, the shooting of Bayan Muna’s coordinator Larry Villegas in his house in General Santos City.
In a statement, Bayan expressed their condemnation over the “coordinated red-tagging statements” made by Duterte, the NTF-ELCAC as well as the election candidates opposed to the candidacy of Robredo.
The group maintained that these statements are “baseless, irresponsible, and could endanger the lives of red-tagged individuals and supporters of Robredo.”
“It is reprehensible that authorities would desperately resort to red-tagging in order to derail the surging popularity of Robredo,” the group said in a statement.
The Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) said that the baseless fabrications of a “’communist plot’ is a flimsy excuse for a brewing crackdown” on the broad political opposition led by Robredo and Vice Presidential candidate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, and a “diverse array of civil society and democratic forces.”
“Under Duterte, much like the dark years of martial law under Marcos, manufactured accusations of communist infiltration have become preposterous because anyone and anything that threatens the interests of the Dutertes and Marcoses are tagged as communistic and terroristic,” said Dr. Gerardo Lanuza, CONTEND chairperson.
“If Leni only got 15% in surveys, why is the Marcos-Duterte tandem too threatened and resorts to red-tagging?” he added.
The Makabayan bloc also said that this latest red-tagging “signals that the Duterte regime is running scared and has decided to step up its use of their discredited tactic of red-tagging to harass and intimidate the broad array of democratic forces which are steadily increasing and have coalesced to support the candidacy of Robredo and Pangilinan who are determined to defeat the Marcos-Duterte tandem at the polls.”
The progressive lawmakers demand the NTF-ELCAC to cease and desist from further red-tagging and vilification during this election campaign period.
Bayan also said that red-tagging “could be part of an elaborate sinister maneuver to stem the momentum of Robredo’s campaign and prevent the opposition from gaining more support ahead of the elections.”
“Duterte and NTF-ELCAC have no credibility given their notorious record of using lies and fabricated evidence against activists and progressive groups. Nevertheless, it is worrisome that they continue to engage in red-tagging despite the documented pattern that this causes direct harm and violence,” the group said.
Red-tagging as an election offense
Bayan added that public officials who threaten or red-tag activist leaders and supporters of Robredo should be held accountable as they use their office while committing such acts.
They could also be liable for committing an election offense during the campaign period, the group added.
Retired Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rowena Guanzon previously said that red-tagging should constitute an election offense as a form of threat or intimidation.
This statement of Guanzon came after Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Cavite Cong. Jesus Crispin alleged that the attendees in Leni-Kiko’s campaign rally in Cavite are paid and are members of the New People’s Army.
Meanwhile, Bayan enjoins the public to call out candidates who red-tag their rivals and critics.
“We should not allow Duterte and NTF-ELCAC to use red-tagging as a political weapon to divide the opposition. We should push back against the escalating attacks against Robredo and the political opposition,” the group said.