Threats vs rights defenders intensify as military pushes to regulate social media under terror law

“Straight from the horse’s mouth: the military’s proposal to ‘regulate’ social media under the Anti-Terrorism Act clearly isn’t about countering terrorism: they’ll use it to censor dissent and go after legal organizations they have long vilified as ‘terrorists,’” human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted, as the group slammed Southern Luzon Command Chief Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr., also an official of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), for expressing support for such proposals yesterday, August 24, supposedly because of certain “legal organizations” who are using social media platforms to “destabilize the government.”

“What are they going to do? Shut down the social media accounts of these organizations? If we’re talking about the use of social media for terrorism, ordinary citizens have been terrorized by the State in being threatened with arrests simply for airing their grievances against the government online. The social media accounts of police offices, military units, and that of NTF-ELCAC are filled with posts vilifying us as ‘legal fronts’ of ‘terrorists’ and ‘destabilizers;’ they even go as far as putting public ‘hit list’ posters in cities and along highways in various parts of the country. State forces are terrorizing and inciting violence against communities, human rights defenders, and critics,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

In recent weeks, Palabay said that the red-tagging campaign against Karapatan and other human rights defenders have intensified amid the killings of human rights worker Zara Alvarez and peace advocate Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis. On August 12, 2020, Karapatan – Cagayan Valley reported 75 sacks hanged in trees along the National Highway traversing Iguig, Amulung, and Alcala towns in Cagayan that listed the names of 21 individuals and seven organizations and contained terror-tagging statements. Pamphlets, which contained the same false and malicious accusations, were also seen in different parts of Cagayan and Isabela.

Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region also documented the proliferation of posters in Davao City bearing the images, names and organizations of nine known progressive leaders in the region last August 13. Printed on top of the posters is “WANTED” with photos, names, and their organizations branded as “HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATORS,” “BERDUGO” and “PUMAPATAY NG TRIBU” — the second wave of harmful posters proliferated in the city after a first wave of posters last July.

“Being tagged as a ‘terrorist’ is a death sentence. Both Zara Alvarez and Ka Randy Echanis were among the at least 600 names tagged as ‘terrorists’ in the Department of Justice’s proscription petition last 2018, which also included murdered peace consultant Randy Malayao. Zara was also publicly vilified in posters that proliferated in Bacolod City that same year along with human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who was gunned down in November that year, and Councilor Bernardino Patigas who was killed in April 2019. Now, both Zara and Ka Randy are dead. The military’s proposal to identify legal organizations to be ‘regulated’ on social media is not only a threat to our digital security: it’s a threat to our civil liberties, it’s a threat on our lives and human rights work, it’s a threat to every freedom-loving Filipino and their right to free expression,” she continued.

“The numbskull Parlade and his fellow delusional stooges in the NTF-ELCAC must take the public for fools in their desperate attempts to discredit our human rights work in their rabid campaigns of lies so they’re now using their last card: to silence us by ‘regulating’ social media, or by liquidating us one by one — by attempting to terrorize us and inciting violence against us. We call on all Filipinos to resist this clear attempt to impose a virtual de facto martial law. If Parlade thinks in any way that his rabid tactics to silence us will work, well, he is utterly and pathetically mistaken,” Palabay ended.