Words by Rainie Edz Dampitan
“Red-tagging has a chilling effect on the students […] Red-tagging also paves the way further for harassment and attacks on activists. With the abrogation of [the] UP-DND Accord, red-tagging puts the students in more danger.”
This was the statement of University Student Council (USC) Chairperson Siegfred Severino in an exclusive interview with the Perspective, in light of the red-tagging incident in a UPLB National Service Training Program (NSTP) webinar last March 21.
Former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Ret. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., who served as speaker in the said webinar, tagged mass mobilizations and international solidarity work as front acts of the New People’s Army (NPA).
State forces have been notorious for red-tagging progressive individuals, linking them to the NPA. In late 2021, virtual “peace and development forums” in schools became avenues for the state’s red-tagging scheme against progressive organizations and individuals in Southern Tagalog (READ: State forces’ “peace forums” used as latest avenue for red-tagging scheme).
Recognizing these red-tagging incidents in schools, Youth Advocates for Peace with Justice (YAPJUST) – UPLB Spokesperson John Peter Angelo Garcia shed light on its effects on students’ academic freedom.
”Academic freedom is the lifeblood of any academic institution, so to have red-tagging restrict it means to deprive students and faculty of quality education,” he said.
This was not the first time that an incident of red-tagging happened in UPLB. In 2019, military personnel red-tagged student leaders and organizations in an NSTP lecture. Students staged a mobilization to call out the administration for its negligence, and the AFP for its human rights violations.
Ashley Corpuz, one of the students in the DL Umali Hall where the NSTP forum was conducted, narrated her experience during the incident.
“Nang-red-tag ng orgs and individuals bigla yung mga militar na nagpe-present. After noon ay nagalit [ang] mga estudyante [at] nagsigawan ng ‘Shame!’, tapos ni-lock nila yung mga pinto para ‘di kami makalabas tapos nagpa-forum sila sa loob,” she recounted.
[“The military who were presenting red-tagged organizations and individuals. After that, it enraged students and they yelled ‘Shame!’, and then the doors were locked so that we would not be able to exit, and then they proceeded with the forum.”]
Despite the incident, Corpuz stated that she was not held back from expressing progressive ideas, although there has been a “chilling effect”.
“‘Di naman ako na-hold back, may chilling effect lang everytime kikilos, na parang naiisip ko na, ‘Baka ma-red-tag ako ‘pag nagsabi or gumawa ako ng isang bagay na critical sa government, kahit na alam ko naman na wala namang mali [roon],’” she added.
[“I was not held back, but there was a chilling effect. I would think that I would be red-tagged have I said or done something critical of the government, even though I know that there is nothing wrong with that.”]
Corpuz added the implications of such cases of red-tagging, which attest that the government is “aversive [to] critical thinking”.
“Aversive sa critical thinking ang estado. Ayaw niya sa kabataang mulat; ayaw niya rin na ang kabataan, nakikibaka alongside marginalized. Bakit ayaw sa mulat? Kasi gustong panatilihin ng estado ang status quo na siya ang pinaka-ultimate na nagbebenefit,” Corpuz added.
[“The state is aversive to critical thinking. It does not want the youth to be radicalized, it also does not want the youth to join the marginalized sectors’ struggle. Why does it not want people to be radicalized? It is because the state wants to maintain the status quo where it will ultimately benefit.”]
Meanwhile, in the recorded video played at the webinar, Madrigal also equated communism to terrorism.
This is in contrary with the NPA’s affirmation of firm opposition against terrorism. The revolutionary group has stressed that they strongly oppose terrorism, because it is counterrevolutionary. Violence against civilians compromises their principles (READ: Understanding the legitimacy of the democratic revolution).
A threat to the ‘safe haven’
The recent red-tagging and terror-tagging incident continues to threaten the academic freedom that progressive university constituents aspire to protect, especially after the UPLB Safe Haven Resolution was passed.
“Almost a year since the passing of the UPLB Safe Haven Resolution, academic freedom remains under threat in UPLB as a National Service Training Program (NSTP) seminar presents activities of progressive organizations as terrorist acts,” wrote YAPJUST, an alliance of individuals and sectors advocating for social justice.
The said resolution was approved by the University Council (UC) to ensure that UPLB remains a safe space for constituents to express academic freedom and critical thinking. Part of its resolutions also include support for human rights and civil liberties.
“This [red-tagging incident] shows that the safe haven resolution is still not being fully implemented despite the creation of a committee to oversee it. The aim of the resolution is to ensure that within the university and all of its platform[s], free discourse of political ideologies will be discussed without the fear of them being persecuted or harmed,” Severino added.
UPLB organizations expressed their concern regarding the event and condemned the red-tagging of state forces on democratic acts.
“Nakakadismaya at kasuklam-suklam ang pagpapahintulot nito lalo pa’t sariwa pa sa ating kaisipan ang pagpaslang ng mga militar kina Chad Booc at Jurain Ngujo, na silang mga kabataang lumad na guro. Hindi na dapat bigyan ng kahit anong plataporma ang mga militar sa pamantasan dahil sila ang naglalagay sa buhay ng mga estudyante sa peligro,” wrote Carla Ac-ac, Chairperson of Anakbayan UPLB.
[“The approval of this webinar is frustrating, especially since the military’s murder of Chad Booc and Jurain Ngujo, who were Lumad teachers, is still fresh in our minds. The military must not even be given a platform in the university because they are the ones who put the lives of students in danger.”]
Throughout their years of service for the Lumad community, Booc and Ngujo had been the subject of harassment and intimidation. They were killed last February 24 after a research work in Davao de Oro (READ: ‘Iskolar para sa Bayan’: Progressives, relatives testify to the spirit of service lived by slain Lumad teacher Chad Booc).
Corpuz added that red-tagging steps on the masses’ civil right to mobilize.
“Constant red-tagging [is] blurring the lines between armed struggle and parliamentary struggle, at pagkonsidera sa lahat ng mga nag-aasam ng pagbabagong panlipunan bilang armado. Nagpu-put siya ng danger sa mga kumikilos under parliamentary struggle na pumapaloob sa group at nakikibaka within sa framework na ‘yon. ‘Pag blurred na kasi ‘yung line between those two, inaapakan na kaagad noon ‘yung civil right ng masa na makilahok, mag-organisa, at kumilos para baguhin ‘yung lipunan niya,” Corpuz added.
[“Constant red-tagging is blurring the lines between armed struggle and parliamentary struggle, and it considers all who aspire societal change as armed revolutionaries. It endangers those who work under the parliamentary struggle who fall within that group and work within that framework. Whenever the line between armed and parliamentary struggle is already blurred, it steps down on the civil right of the masses to join, organize, and work to change the society.”]
Meanwhile, the threat to UP constituents’ safety has become more apparent since the abrogation of the UP-DND accord in January 2021. The said accord sought to require state forces the permission from respective campuses before they enter its premises.
Similarly, Severino stated that red-tagging paves the way for further harassment and attacks on activists, and puts the students in even more danger, especially with the abrogation of the UP-DND accord.
In line with this, Severino said that the UPLB USC calls for a thorough review of NSTP lecture materials.
“The UPLB USC already sent an inquiry about this to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. We will not sit idly by when our lives are being put in danger under the guise of academic discourse. We further reiterate our demand to reinstitutionalize the UP-DND accord. This is to ensure and strengthen provisions that will safeguard democratic rights and spaces of all UP constituents. Red-tagging has no place in UPLB,” the council wrote.
Garcia added that it is high time for the UC Committee on National Issues to carry out its duties of prohibiting threats of state forces in democratic spaces.
“We ask the UC, UPLB’s highest policy-making body, to recall and enact their commitment to maintaining the campus as a haven for freedom, human rights, critical thinking, and public service,” Garcia said.
Garcia added that YAPJUST will coordinate with the university administrators more actively to review UPLB’s security protocols, facilitate educational discussions and training, and enact measures to defend UP constituents from red-tagging and other imminent threats. [P]
Photo by Sonya Castillo
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