Red-tagging and propaganda branding

THIS government is in the habit of imaging freedom of expression in a warped way. Its functionaries bluntly tell us that they have every right to put up tarpaulins accusing individuals of being communists and terrorists because they have a right to such freedom.

And yet, when an ordinary citizen openly calls them fascists, they retaliate by red-tagging them. Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade complains that Cavite Gov. Juanito Victor Remulla Jr. unfairly accused him in social media of being behind the anti-communist propaganda without evidence. Yet, Parlade openly accused Angel Locsin of being a communist without an iota of evidence.

It behooves us to ask how we can accord this government the right to free expression when it is unable to respect our rights to speak freely. Liza Soberano and Catriona Gray were only exercising those rights, and on behalf of women, in a forum organized by Gabriela, a left-oriented women’s group, yet they were warned to cease and desist from being associated with the group lest they suffer the fate of other female celebrities who joined the communist movement and got killed. And now, Parlade rationalizes this as actually words of compassion and concern, a form of benevolent care, likening it to the warning contained in products with harmful ingredients for people to know before consuming them. He forgot that for all intents and purposes, such warning is still a threat, plain and simple.

And why would someone who is just speaking in a forum organized by Gabriela need to be warned, anyway?  The suggestion that speaking as an invited resource person in a forum organized by a leftist group already makes that person guilty by association of being a communist terrorist is simply so bereft of any legal standing, that the only way one can assert it is to deploy the state’s coercive power to threaten and intimidate. It even behooves us to ask up to what extent Parlade, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año or Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy, and their cohorts in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) would test the limits of the Constitution and relevant laws in their McCarthyist acts of branding, maligning and tagging. Would it now include banning the teaching of Karl Marx and of communism as an ideology in political theory classes?

It is granted that the state has a right to protect itself, and that people who take up arms and engage in violent actions, from bombing government facilities to hijacking airlines, are fair targets for being labeled as enemies of the Republic. But even here, the state is admonished to exercise restraint.  And this is something that Parlade, Año, Badoy and their colleagues at NTF-Elcac conveniently ignore.  Constitutional governments are by nature constrained by law, and while individual rights are protected, there is no article in our Constitution that enumerates the rights accorded to government.  This is simply because constitutions bind governments to protect people’s rights, that even include rebels, terrorists and criminals.

And if the Constitution accords even these actual enemies of the Republic some rights and protection from inhuman treatment and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, then it simply boggles the mind why authorities cannot accord Soberano, Gray and Locsin and other people who are similarly situated, that presumption and protection. The government can tag people when there is evidence of actual involvement in armed uprising, and in acts of terrorism that any reasonable person can agree with and accept.

But it cannot tag people on the basis of mere suspicion or innuendo. It cannot call out just anyone who adheres to the communist ideology as an enemy of the Republic, nor can it accuse peaceful demonstrators, or a labor union organizer, or a student leader, or a progressive professor of being terrorists without actual evidence. Even the Anti-Terrorism Law specifically prescribes that dissent should not be construed as terrorism.

It seems, however, that the millions of pesos of funds allocated to the anti-insurgency and anti-terrorism campaign of this government are being spent more in propaganda, funding expensive road trips of Badoy and others to have their own roadshows as their platforms to internationalize their red-tagging efforts. It seems that the NTF-Elcac is hell-bent on putting up posters and tarpaulins, or crashing into university forums and orientation seminars, to wage a propaganda war designed to counter their claims of a pervasive communist threat. It appears that they would rather spend time warning female actors and celebrities, than seriously mobilizing their millions in intelligence funds to gather solid information to prove if indeed Sara Elago and Neri Colmenares, who are some of their favorite targets, are actually involved in terrorist activities.

It is simply odd that instead of building strong and unassailable cases against their usual suspects, that the NTF-Elcac would prefer engaging in a propaganda war, as if tarpaulins and red-tagging in seminars alone can defeat rebellion and terrorism. They want to win over sympathizers and potential recruits by a campaign to intimidate and scare, without realizing that if there is one characteristic of their targets, it is the fact that they have conquered their fear of poverty and oppression, turned this to rage, and are now willing to fight back. Governor Remulla is correct. Slogans and red-tagging are not what will turn the red tide of rebellion, but jobs, justice and good governance.

There is an elephant in the room begging to be called. One needs to ask if what we have right now is simply propaganda branding, another political fiction just like that claim that the Philippines has become a narcostate. Are they exaggerating the problem of rebellion, even labeling it as terrorism, and pumping it with optics and slogans, even turning celebrities into targets, to paint an image that diverts and takes our attention away from things inconvenient to their power?

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