On August 21, 2020, the Facebook page “Abaka Kugon” released a post that branded two student activists as communist insurgents. The two featured were KARAPATAN Southern Tagalog (ST)spokesperson Kyle Salgado and KARAPATAN ST humanitarian mission volunteer Charmane Maranan.
In the post, written entirely in uppercase letters with red exclamation points, the page claimed that KARAPATAN ST continued to defend “demonic terrorists” affiliated with and recruited members for the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), and pointed Salgado and Maranan as “leaders” of the affair.
“MGA KABABAYAN, MAKIKITA ANG KONEKSIYON NG KARAPATAN-TK SA TERORISTANG CPP-NPA NA PASIMUNO SA MGA REKRUTMENT SA ESKWELAHAN, URING MANGGAGAWA, MARALITANG TAGALUNGSOD AT IBA PANG MGA SEKTOR NG LIPUNAN NA ANG TANGING LAYUNIN AY PALITAN ANG DEMOKRASYANG PAMAHALAAN AT GAWING KOMUNISTANG PAMUMUNO SA PAMAMARAANG MADUGO AT ARMADONG PAKIKIBAKA LAMANG,” the post wrote erroneuosly.
The post, which attached screenshots of the both Salgado’s and Maranan’s Facebook profiles, went further by blaming KARAPATAN ST for numerous deaths linked to civilians, indigenous peoples (IPs), children, workers, and other sectors of society, adding that the group had been supposed hindrances for police and soldiers.
They also claimed that the group made use of rice, canned goods, and cigarettes to convince workers to join the rest of the NPA in “the mountains,” and that they sacrificed their own and burned construction materials for infrastructure among other projects.
“MULA NOON AT HIGIT KAILANMAN AY MARIING KINOKONDENA NG MAMAMAYANG PILIPINO ANG TERORISTANG CPP-NPA-NDF AT ANG #KARAPATAN_TIMOG_KATAGALUGAN SA PATULOY NITONG PAGPAPAHIRAP AT PANLILINLANG PARA SA INTERES NG KANILANG MGA PINUNO NA NAGPAPAKASARAP LAMANG SA MGA KALUNGSURAN AT MGA BANYAGANG BANSA,” the post continued.
This was not the first time posted in a similar vein. Only ten days prior, Abaka Kugon provided a radically different narrative regarding the group’s efforts to reclaim the bodies of the Kalayaan 4, NPA members who were killed in a clash with police last August 2, 2020. Instead, they claimed that they harassed police who were retrieving the bodies of individuals they deemed as terrorists.
“HINAHARASS NILA ANG KAPULISAN AT TINATAKOT ANG MGA EMPLEYADO NG MGA PUNERARYA AT PWERSAHANG KINUKUHA ANG MGA BANGKAY NG WALANG MGA LEGAL NA DOKUMENTO SA PAMAMAGITAN NG GAWA-GAWA AT NAGPAPANGGAP NA ‘KAMAG-ANAK’ KUNO NA KAANIB DIN NILA SA PARTIDO.. ALAMS NA KAYO MGA KAS! WAG KAMI! 😜🤪😁😂,” said in the August 11 post.
The post mentioned that the page refused to believe the legitimacy of the immediate families of the slain rebels even if there is strong proof of documentary evidence, which was also said by the PNP Police Regional Office 4A (PRO4A) and PNP Laguna.
“Humihingi pa sila ng unnecessary documents tulad ng resibo ng birth certificate. ‘Yung mga ganitong tactics ay sobra-sobra na. Sobra-sobrang panggigipit at pahirap sa pamilya. said Salgado, who was also one of the Cabuyao 11 before.
The propaganda machine coughed
The majority of Abaka Kugon’s content revolved around red-tagging progressive individuals and organizations, and offered propaganda posts and accounts of various incidents formed in support of the Anti-Terror Law. In fact, a seemingly normal image of Cong. Sarah Elago of Kabataan Party-list was featured as the page’s cover photo.
Abaka Kugon’s audience mostly consisted of anonymous accounts and trolls showing support for President Rodrigo Duterte.
However, the official Facebook page of the 2nd Civil Military Operations Battalion in Southern Tagalog, as well as Philippine National Police (PNP)-owned pages regularly repost their content. These include Malinao Municipal Police Station, Guinobatan Municipal Police Station, Rapu-Rapu Municipal Police Station, and Task Force Ugnay among others.
Salgado commented on the nature of the page, citing that it might be a state-funded troll page.
“Kung makikita mo ‘yung mga photos ay mga stolen photos na kuha ng mga either uniformed personnel or police in civilian clothes na nag-pipicture kapag may activities or mission ang isang human rights group,” Salgado said.
Maranan confirmed that the photos shown were taken by state forces, during their attempts at retrieving the bodies of the Kalayaan 4, calling post as “state propaganda.”
“Those [photos] were taken by intelligence agents during the time when we were processing the documents for the family to be able to claim the remains of their slain loved ones,” Maranan said.
With regards to the alliance’s involvement in the Kalayaan 4 case, Salgado explained that they were simply doing their duties as a human rights group. He emphasized that just because one is aiding the families of a deceased NPA member, it does not automatically mean that they are part of the organization.
“Ang mga pamilya ay lumapit sa amin upang humingi ng tulong, at bilang isang human rights group ay natural lamang na tutulong ka sa kanila. Hindi mo naman matatanggihan ang isang pamilya na gusto lamang magluksa at makapagdalahamti sa namatay nilang kaanak, NPA man ito or hindi,” Salgado said.
No one is safe
In the time of the Anti-Terror Law, red-tagging continues beyond Abaka Kugon, as many other propaganda sites continue to harass and manufacture false narratives regarding progressive individuals and parties. This was a law criticized by dissenters for its provisions that are believed to be prone to abuse from state forces and is manifested through the rampant red-tagging and extrajudicial killings in the country.
According to Salgado, no one is safe under the ATL, and that the law itself will build the conditions for people to fight back because it violates human rights and the 1987 Constitution.
“Kung ang pagiging aktibista at ang pagiging human rights worker ay ibig sabihin ay pagiging rebelde, mabuti nang tawagin kang rebelde, kaysa naman makulong sa isang kultura ng impunidad at pasismo na pinapalaganap ng AFP, PNP, at ng Duterte administration,” he added.
On possible state-sponsored propaganda, Maranan described this as a “psy-war” against activists.
“The NTF-ELCAC [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict] acts as an effort to demonize progressive orgs and human rights defenders. It is a form of psy-war or intimidation and harassment against human rights workers,” Maranan said.
In light of these incidents of red-tagging in both online and physical means, Salgado commented that now is the time to be vocal about the issue.
“Ito na ‘yung panahon para magsalita in this political climate, in the human rights situation under the Duterte’s administration. Sa mga susunod na panahon, makikita talaga natin na itong ATL ay mababasura,” said Salgado. [P]
Screengrabs from Abaka Kugon Facebook page