At Ground Level | Activists push back against red-tagging

Sometimes, people just throw up their hands and shake their heads dejectedly: “But what can you do?”

But often there’s really no alternative but to fight back, to push back. It happened again, twice, this week.

One move was initiated by my feisty friend Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, who was a martial law detainee and has been an activist ever since. She is now the chairperson emeritus of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

Last Wednesday she asked the Quezon City Regional Trial Court for relief against two notorious red-taggers, who had been continuously maligning and red-tagging her, seeking P2 million in damages.

The other initiative emanated from three United Nations Special Rapporteurs (SRs): Mary Lawlor, SR on the situation of human rights defenders; David R. Boyd, SR on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; and Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, SR on the rights of indigenous peoples.

They made public internationally an official communication to the Philippine government, dated May 8, 2023, wherein they questioned the inclusion of seven Cordillera human rights defenders in a rebellion case, raising other concerns and asking for the government to respond in 60 days.

Araullo says she wants to “exact accountability and to teach a lesson” to former NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lorraine Badoy and self-claimed “communist rebel” Jeffrey Celiz. They co-host a televised show on Sonshine Media Network Inc. (SMNI).

For more than two years now, Badoy and Celiz “baselessly, willfully, repeatedly and publicly maligned and red-tagged (Araullo) in complete and utter abridgement of the standards of human relations provided under Article 19 of the Civil Code,” read the complaint.

Earlier, on Feb. 11, 2020, Badoy wrote an article for the website of the state-run Philippine News Agency, wherein she claimed that Araullo was a member of the “CPP-NPA-NDF” (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines). A few months later, in a post in the official website of the NTF-ELCAC, Badoy again called her a “communist.”

Celiz repeated the same assertions in their TV show, the complaint said, without regard for her safety and security. He claimed that Araullo, along with another BAYAN leader and Makabayan bloc legislators, engaged in “conspiracy, inducement, support, financing and recruitment… or providing any form of assistance and support to terrorists.” He further claimed, without showing any proof, that Araullo and the others could be prosecuted under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Understandably exasperated, Araullo wrote a letter last January to Badoy and Celiz denying all the false accusations against her, and demanding that they desist from further red-tagging and maligning her. The television network did acknowledge receiving her letter, but still the tandem’s attacks continued.

“What is clear is this: Defendants Badoy and Celiz have no rights to speak falsely or maliciously of other persons. The constitutional right of freedom of expression may not be availed of to broadcast lies or half-truths, insult others, destroy their name or reputation or bring them to disrepute,” the complaint emphasized.

The complaint has reportedly been assigned to RTC Branch 105 for hearing.

The UN Special Rapporteurs, on the other hand, expressed their concern for the seven Cordillera leaders charged with rebellion: Florence Kong, Nino Joseph Ocener, Lucia Lourdes Gimenez, Jennifer Awingan-Taggaoa, Windel Bolinget, Stephen Tauli and Sarah Abellon Alikes. All of them are well-known as advocates for indigenous peoples, land and environmental rights.

Bolinget, they noted, had been the subject of four previous communications sent to the Philippine government by several UN Special Rapporteurs. Concerns about the red-tagging of Philippine human rights defenders had already been raised in five previous communications – from Jan. 22, 2021 to Aug. 4, 2022.

Invoking their mandate from the UN Human Rights Council, the three special rapporteurs asked the Philippine government to provide them information on the “factual and legal basis” for the inclusion of the seven activists in the rebellion case, plus updates on the judicial process on the case.

Authorities filed the case early this year, accusing the group of taking part in an ambush by NPA fighters where two Philippine Army soldiers were killed. However, due process was denied them, as “they were not given the opportunity to answer the complaint before it was filed in court,” according to the special rapporteurs.

Then on Feb. 21, the Police Community Affairs and Development Group-Cordillera posted the official mugshots of Abellon, Tauli, Bolinget, Gimenez, Ocener and Kang on their official Facebook page, referring to them as “Communist Terror Group” members.

At the time the special rapporteurs wrote their communication, the presiding judge on the rebellion case had not acted on the seven accused’s motion to exclude their names from the charge sheet and to quash the arrest warrants issued against them. No hearing on the case had been scheduled.

Besides the earlier mentioned information on the rebellion case, the three international experts asked the Philippine government to:

• Provide any additional information/comments on the several concerns they raised; and

• Outline the measures that the government had put in place to prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, attacks, threats and killings against human rights defenders; measures taken to “guarantee the establishment of a safe and enabling environment” for the work being done by the latter.

Sixty days have passed since the special rapporteurs sent their May 8 communication, during which period the Philippine government should have made a response. Not a word. This is a significant lapse because it involves our commitments to the international community.

As for Araullo’s damage suit against her two bullying tormentors, it’s a departure from the earlier approach taken earlier by various groups and individuals, at least 12 of them. Rappler has a list of the complaints filed with the ombudsman – from Feb. 10, 2020 to June 20, 2022 – in connection with the malicious accusations that activists and dissenters have had to endure.

No word or action has come from the ombudsman either.

Published in Philippine Star
July 22, 2023

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