Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted what it described as the persistent “red-tagging” of activists and the continuing attacks on media practitioners in the Philippines in its annual report released on Thursday, January 12.
HRW’s World Report 2023 said Philippine government and military officials continue to accuse civil society groups of being supporters of communist New People’s Army insurgents.
The group said that such accusations have become part of what is commonly known in the country as “red-tagging” and put the accused at heightened risk of attack by the security forces or unidentified gunmen.
The report noted that the military, police, and other national security forces “have actively used social media to convey ‘red tagging’ threats.
HRW cited the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of accusing numerous political activists of being members of the Communist Party, including former Vice President Leni Robredo.
The task force has also red-tagged journalists, book publishers, and international nongovernmental groups, including Oxfam.
The report said leaders and lawyers of peasant organizations and human rights groups who were “red-tagged” have been physically harmed by government security forces and vigilantes while some have been killed.
In June, Clarita Carlos, the new chairperson of the National Security Council, publicly said that she did not favor red-tagging. Despite this declaration, the practice continued, said the HRW report.
The report also noted that aside from the killing of at least three journalists in the past year, the harassment of media workers “also persisted.”
It cited the case of alternative media groups Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly that were shut down in July. The National Security Council sought to close the media outlets because of alleged links to the communists.
HRW also noted that the government used the cyber-libel law several times against journalists, columnists, critics of the government, and ordinary social media users.
The Justice Department’s Office of Cybercrime reported that 3,700 cyber-libel cases were filed as of May 2022. Of that number, 1,317 were filed in court while 1,131 were dismissed. Twelve cases ended in a conviction.
Among those who have been convicted of cyber-libel is 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, the CEO of the news website Rappler.