Some UP alumni were shocked last January 29, after coming upon a bizarre discovery: their graduation portraits and some of their own quotes were appropriated for a red-tagging campaign.
The now deleted post from the pro-state Facebook page ‘Basika’ made it look as if the graduates were pushing for financially struggling students to pick “education over revolution” and to not “let the CPP/NPA/NDF [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-New Demcratic Front] tell [them] otherwise” in bold writing.
“Isa lamang sila sa mga nagsumikap at nagpatunay na hindi kahirapan ang dahilan para hindi mo maabot ang iyong pangarap! #WalangMahirapsaTaongMayPangarap” the post, also shared by Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary and infamous red-tagger Lorraine Badoy in her Facebook page, read.
As this was roughly a week after the UP-DND Accord abrogation at the hands of the Department of National Defense (DND) blew up, UP Internet Freedom Network (INTERNET) President Mac Arboleda said that more offline and online red-tagging cases might take shape.
“With the military’s insistence that the Accord has been terminated, it’s certain that they will force themselves in these spaces and continue to spread harm and disinformation. Right now, what I’d like to see from the UP community is for them to organize and start talking about how we can protect each other from these attacks,” Arboleda said in a statement with the Perspective. (READ: UP strikes back against Accord “termination”)
Inspiration becomes appropriation
In a separate interview with the Perspective, alumnus Thomas John “TJ” Tenedero (one of two from UPLB) recalled how he found out that his image and his words were appropriated.
“Some of my UP alumni friends from different UP campuses started mentioning [sic] and messaging me that I have a photo on a post. Noong una nagulat ako slight kasi I thought I was red-tagged. Pulang-pula kasi yung post and very striking siya. Pag titingnan maigi aakalain mo talagang it was a red tag[ging] post. Pero when I looked closely into [sic] it, hindi naman pala,” Tenedero said.
Tenedero revealed that the quote was taken from a story published by Inquirer back in 2019, covering his life as a son of a scrap dealer and a graduate. He was far from pleased with how his “inspirational” quote was used.
“Medyo nakakaoffend lang din na nagamit yung quote o sinabi ko sa maling paraan kasi personal sa akin ‘yon. And ang intention noon is to give hope and inspire young people na kagaya ko na laki sa hirap. Wala nang iba,” the BS Agricultural and Applied Economics (AAE) graduate asserted.
Mark Gil Cato from UP Diliman and Norman King from UP Manila, also featured in the post, recalled that their quotes were also taken completely out of context. While Cato explained that his quotes were taken from his viral graduation post from 2016, King explained that his quote was from one of public speeches that was meant to encourage students to study.
“I did not give them my consent,” said Cato after his friends shared the post with him that morning.
On whether or not he would pursue legal action, Tenedero said that he was considering it, but felt that it would possibly lead to more trouble than it would be worth.
“Yung mga nasa post, we all have work and responsibilities right now. Ang hassle lang ng nanahimik kaming lahat, doing our jobs, and may ganong post na wala kaming consent lahat,” Tenedero said.
While Cato explained that he too was considering legal action, King said that he would instead let the issue slide.
Against digital dangers
Even before the UP-DND Accord abrogation, various UPLB constituents had to contend with threats of red-tagging from the likes the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC) Mother’s Day video to Facebook page Abaka Kugon red-tagging two UPLB students.
(Related stories: Alleged state-run FB page red-tags student activists, UPLB student alliance demands safety from admin as red-tagging continues)
Given these, Arboleda said that, while it was always possible for propagandists to appropriate images for various agendas, there seemed to be a lack of people to act on these cybersecurity concerns.
“Data privacy is crucial to combatting disinformation, but as long as these bad actors can proliferate misleading information with little penalty, as long as these platforms gain profit from the business of disinformation, as long as governments continue to fund their propaganda using taxpayers’ money, we can expect that these incidents will continue to happen,” Arboleda explained.
Besides calling for “zero tolerance” for such cases, Arboleda urged the UP administration to have a healthy collaboration with cybersecurity experts.
“UP has many experts in the fields of information technology, data privacy, disinformation, cybersecurity – I urge the administration to listen to the experts and cooperate in the interest of the students, faculty, and workers, not the police and the military,” Arboleda said.
In addition to rejecting police and military presence in the campus, Arboleda called for the administration to make university constituents “feel safe” and to support “campus journalists, student activists, academics, workers, in all forms.”
“They should condemn these actions that stifle on our [sic] human rights and work with the community in addressing problems and building solutions,” Arboleda concluded. [P]
Screengrab from TJ Tenedero’s Facebook post
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