Tondo volunteer teachers denounce red-tagging, surveillance

“The harassment faced by the leaders of SMTH deeply troubles us. It prompts us to reflect on why the military is targeting this community-based, cause-oriented group that is simply advocating for their fundamental rights to housing and livelihood.”

By ZYSA MEI ELLORAN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The para-teachers of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s (IFI) Eskwelayan project denounced the harassment of its community organization Samahan ng Maralita sa Temporary Housing (SMTH). They have been subjected to surveillance by the Philippine military.

The first incident happened in March 2023 when soldiers visited them daily at the daycare center, taking photographs of their operations and asking for their personal information.

“Those military personnel, we [welcomed] them, we also included them in our clean-up drives. Unfortunately, they had a different motive,” Teacher Mariafe Hulipaz, president of Samahan ng Maralita sa Temporary Housing (SMTH), told Bulatlat.

The organization is a key partner of the IFI in the Eskwelayan Project, an alternative school program that offers a rights-based education to children in Aroma, Tondo.

“The harassment faced by the leaders of SMTH deeply troubles us. It prompts us to reflect on why the military is targeting this community-based, cause-oriented group that is simply advocating for their fundamental rights to housing and livelihood,” The Rt. Rev’d Dindo Ranojo, IFI general secretary, said in a statement.

Continued harassment

The SMTH was established in 2016 due to threats of demolition in the community. It advocates for the rights of the residents in housing and livelihood.

“Our families are affected by demolition since they will displace us far from our livelihood here and that’s what we are fighting against,” Hulipaz said.

The state forces also profiled the organization as affiliated with progressive groups.

According to SMTH, they only asked for help from Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Partylist regarding the housing opportunities of the government to also help those affected by the demolitions. They said that the SMTH is not affiliated with Gabriela.

“The military always imposed on us the question on how SMTH survives or became progressive if we are not affiliated with any organization,” Delia Gatela, vice president of SMTH, said.

In February 2024, several incidents of red-tagging were documented involving the 11th Civil Military Operations Kaugnayan Battalion’s Facebook post. Some residents are tagged as members of SMTH under the pretext of “fake surrenders.” Another post indicated that they would later sign a commitment of support to the NTF-ELCAC. 

“Not all of the 284 are SMTH members, and some of the SMTH members simply received aid [ayuda], but they didn’t know that they would be labeled as surrenderers by the military. Two of our former members allied with the military, when the military found out that there was a problem between SMTH and our former comrades, the soldier got the idea to use them to create a new community organization because the military couldn’t enter the community of SMTH,” Hulipaz said.

Complaints

The teachers filed a barangay blotter and a formal complaint with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) against the military personnel. However, only high-ranking officers faced the organization.

“We want to face the military personnel who red-tagged us in the community because they are the ones who did bad things to our organization,” SMTH said.

The IFI expressed solidarity with SMTH and with the residents of Brgy. Aroma. The IFI also supports their quest for a better situation and wholeheartedly believes that their aspirations are justified and morally right. (RTS, DAA) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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