By Ruben Belmonte, Jr. and Caleb Buenaluz
As billions struggle to live during the COVID-19 pandemic, those who have exerted efforts in lending helping hands face another threat lingering in the shadows: red-tagging.
Red-tagging is an act of affiliating people with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF), despite bearing little to no pieces of evidence. They can be in the form of death threats or detainment sent by radical pro-government parties, and can be life-threatening due to the weight of accusation.
In the lockdown alone, students from the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB), and even those affiliated with volunteer group Serve the People Brigade (STPB) Task Force CURE, have received threats from unknown senders, praying for their doomed fates. Days have passed, and while the students have to endure the stress of the lockdown, the ominous threats continuously haunt them.
Perhaps even more troubling is how state agents would also commit to this practice.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) released a video last May 10. Although the said video featured statements from individuals that declare progressive organizations to be “fronts” and “recruiters” of the CPP-NPA-NDF, a student demonstration in UPLB’s Carabao Park was made to look as an example of possible insurgency in the video.
Defend UPLB, on this matter, contended that students who appeared in the demonstration might be wrongfully labeled as communists and be put at risk. The alliance even claimed that the NTF-ELCAC used this video to brand UPLB students and organizations as part of what the task force referred to as “communist terrorist groups”. Jasper Sunga, head of the UPLB University Student Council (USC), condemned that these should not be tolerated as it puts the lives of people [progressive or not] in danger.
Defend UPLB added that students and communities expect institutional leaders to safeguard student security and academic freedom. “To trample this would be to trample our human right of expression and free experience of democracy,” they added.
“What I demand now is for the UPLB admin to back up their students. To recognize us and legitimize our efforts. Para maka-dagdag sa pag-eensure ng safety ng mga students in the frontlines.” USC Councilor Gelo Aurigue said.
Recently, the national government passed the Senate Bill 1038, also known as the Anti-Terrorism Bill, in its third and final reading. Under this, the broad definition of terrorism would make it easier for anybody to be arrested and imprisoned for 14 days, with a possible extension of 10 days. A 60-day surveillance of the military or police will be mandated to conduct the program with an allowance of 30 days.
With this, red-tagging can become more prominent, but what did students have to endure in the lockdown?
Death Threats Timeline: Lockdown-Present
- March 19, 2020: A student leader from the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR) had just received a death threat from an anonymous account in Facebook messenger. In the messages, the anonymous messenger threatened the student leader to be careful, for they might be surprised to find out that they are dead the following day, and that they should not involve others, unless they too would face dire consequences. The user would then mention carrying a gun, in response to the student not responding back. The name of the student was withheld for security reasons.
On the same day, the threats would continue even on Twitter, with the user, now identified as “Chloe Cruz” saying that there are many of them involved, while citing that it would be a shame, since the student in question is beautiful.
- March 25, 2020: Another student leader from UPLB received a series of death threats from anonymous phone numbers. A messenger, with the phone number “0996 744 1827” threatened the unnamed student that the police and the military would be notified of their “recruitment”, and that the user knows where the student lives. A minute later, a user by the name of “NAGMA2SID” claimed that he knew that the student came from the barangay that day, again accusing the student of recruiting and for being a terrorist, alongside the student’s peers. The sender again threatened to phone authorities to raid the student’s home, where the sender believes that there is plenty of evidence for it.
- April 25, 2020: University Student Council (USC) councilor Gelo Aurigue received a new series of death threats from senders only known as either “KAIBIGAN” or “FRIEND.” The first message claimed that the user knows where Aurigue resides, and warned him to be careful with what he does. The second message, sent 11 minutes later, threatened that all “anti-government” individuals such as himself must be wary.
- April 28, 2020: The same CFNR student leader and volunteer for Serve The People Brigade (STPB) received a series of death threats yet again, almost after first receiving them. A sender with the name “WATCHOUT” erroneously threatens again that they know where the student lives, while laso threatening the student might disappear suddenly.
- May 30, 2020: A student from the College of Engineering and Agro-industrial Technology (CEAT) was threatened. The message only stated that the student should be careful, while indicating that many are involved in this.