Rights group calls on UN expert to look into disinformation, red-tagging vs journos, activists

Rights group Karapatan denounced the most recent disinformation campaigns and wholesale red-tagging against journalists and human rights defenders in the Philippines, and said that such acts violate and impact on the exercise of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.

“We call on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression to look into this dangerous pattern of disinformation and red-tagging which affects the exercise of press freedom and freedom of expression, when she conducts her reported official visit in 2023. We likewise call on the companies of social media platforms such as Meta, Youtube, Tiktok, and Twitter to address the deluge of online disinformation and threats against the journalists and activists,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.

“It has not been long since broadcast journalist Percy Lapid was killed, and yet the red-tagging enterprise of Lorraine Badoy-Partosa and Jeffrey Celiz, and of the military officials of the NTF-ELCAC, through Apollo Quiboloy’s network, have become more brazen and relentless in spreading lies and terror-tagging more individuals from the media, activists and critics. Someone has to pull the plug on this red-tagging spree, as the lives and safety of everyone at the receiving end of this dangerous practice are on the line,” she added.

In a show over Quiboloy’s network, journalists Atom Araullo, Inday Espina-Varona, and Vergel Santos were named as “operatives” of the CPP-NPA-NDF. Prior to this, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines secretary general Ronalyn Olea of Bulatlat was likewise called an “operatibong internet operator” of the CPP-NPA-NDF. Other journalists like Ed Lingao, Lourd de Veyra and Rose Novenario, received threats on social media following the killing of Lapid. Uncoordinated visits to journalists in their homes were also conducted by the Philippine National Police.

“We ask these mad red-taggers, are you the prep team for attacks against more journalists on the government terror list? These red-taggers have previously used the same media platform in attacking individuals and institutions which provide critical information to the public,” said Palabay.

Meanwhile, the group also condemned the threats and harassment against members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Negros, where they received text messages tagging them as “NPA terrorists.” Unknown men believed to be State agents were also seen standing outside their office for about an hour.

Both NFSW spokesperson Mario Tapi-on and member Danilo Tabura received a number of text messages on October 24, saying: "wait kamo da sa inyo nga mga grupo sa npa terrorist da lang kita sa inyo office katig a gd sa inyo" (wait in your npa terrorists group there in your office). Another message read, "piho na gid ang katikalon ninnyo sadya ini" (you are so sure of yourselves this will be fun).

The two came from a press conference where they reiterated their call for justice for victims in the Negros raids of 2019, where 57 people were arrested, including Tabura, after police raided the offices of NFSW, KMP and other offices of people’s organizations using search warrants issued in Quezon City. The raids are believed to be part of the government crackdown against activists and government critics.

Also, since last week, a certain Facebook page Kalumuran Mindanao, posted online posters with the words “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and which contain photographs of known women’s rights defenders, trade union activists, and other progressives in Southern Mindanao, including Gabriela-Southern Mindanao leaders Dr. Jean Lindo and Cora Espinoza.

The concerned individuals and groups have appealed to the public to report the said posts.

“These continuous red-tagging of government trolls in the internet, Badoy, Celiz, the military and police, and Cabinet officials like DOJ secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla should not be taken lightly, as this online information ecosystem works as part of the whole operation plan of Marcos Jr. government’s counter-insurgency to suppress political dissent. As the president focuses on decorating its administration with lights and sounds, fun vlogs and mediocre speeches, his administration is apparently working double-time to normalize red-tagging and labelling persons as terrorists and communists, as prelude to further threats to their life and safety.”

“Such is the vicious campaign of the Marcos Jr. administration, a continuation and intensification of the previous administration’s attacks against the people, which should be strongly condemned by freedom of expression advocates. Stop the threats and red-tagging, stop the attacks!” Palabay ended.