Red-tagging at core of abuse by Philippine government
November 22, 2023
Editor’s note: Red-tagging is the act of labeling, branding, naming, and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists. It’s a strategy used by state agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be “threats” or “enemies of the State.”
Red-tagging and other human rights violations are done systematically in the Philippines, according to Filipino human rights advocate Jimarie Snap Mabanta.
It was a key message to her audiences as she traveled the U.S. this past summer embarking on a six-city, two-week tour that included Los Angeles; San Francisco; New York; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; and Chicago.
Snap Mabanta works in the Ecumenical Education and Nurture unit of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), a unit that focuses on concerns related to women, youth and children. Central to all NCCP’s work is respect of human rights and dignity and being a witness of Christian solidarity toward the transformation of church and society.
The PC(USA) has been a consistent partner of the NCCP in its migration and human rights work. Last year the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted in favor of an overture promoting human rights in the Philippines, and provided financial support for this summer’s tour, which was a collaboration among the International Coalition for the Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), NCCP and the PC(USA).
Snap Mabanta’s visit to the U.S. not only brought awareness to the human rights violations to American audiences but also reinforced to herself the severity of the problem in her native country.
“When I was in the U.S. I realized how complex the human rights situation is in the Philippines. Every day, something is happening — either someone gets arrested, jailed, forcibly abducted or even killed,” said Snap Mabanta. “During the course of my speaking tour I had to revise and update my working manuscript. Otherwise, it would have become ‘history’ and irrelevant in these fast-paced times.”
Sectoral leaders and indigenous and community leaders being named terrorists by the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Council was one example cited. But Snap acknowledged the systemic human rights abuses that red-tagging begets has been increasing since 2017, when former President Rodrigo Duterte unilaterally terminated the peace negotiations between the government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“People’s legitimate demands for better conditions are met with suppression and violence resulting in human rights violations on the ground,” said Snap Mibanta. “Aside from drug-related killings, terrorist labelling by the government of known critics — such as progressive civil society organizations, churches and activists that are serving and working with the poorest of the poor — has become more threatening.”
She shared statistics to support her argument that with the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, red-tagging (including surveillance, labeling of progressive groups and vilification) has become systematic.
A report by the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project recorded nearly 50 red-tagging-related violent events targeting civilians dispersed throughout the country between 2020 and June 2023. This includes events where a person is physically harmed or killed but does not include cases of arrests, imprisonment or other intimidation.
According to the Philippine-based human rights group Karapatan, there were 60 victims of extrajudicial killings, eight victims of enforced disappearances, and 11 victims of torture among human rights defenders and activists since President Bongbong Marcos Jr. assumed office in June 2022.
Snap Mibanta said U.S. policy plays a role in the ongoing human rights violations by the Philippine government. While in Washington, D.C., she lobbied Congress on the Philippine Human Rights Act, a congressional bill that seeks to suspend U.S. military aid until specific human rights conditions are met.
She holds an optimistic vision that a just and enduring peace is still possible.
“My vision is like that of what Jesus Christ promised — peace based on justice. For the NCCP, peace with justice means people living sustainably in their communities without fear or threat to their lives and livelihood.”
To watch a video clip of Jimarie Snap Mabanta speaking to activists in Chicago during her U.S. tour, click here.
Scott O’Neill, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Jimarie Snap Mabanta, human rights advocate
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