The Armed Forces of the Philippines surprisingly announced this week that it was investigating Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. after he accused a journalist of “aiding terrorists by spreading lies.” The military’s provost marshal was tapped to lead the investigation.
The big question is whether this action is a one-off, or whether pressure against the military’s use of red-baiting tactics may finally be having an impact.
The journalist in question, Tetch Torres-Tupas of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, had earlier reported on a petition before the Supreme Court that contained allegations that soldiers tortured members of an Indigenous community. Activists and fellow journalists took Parlade’s tirade as a threat to Tupas.
This is not the first time Parlade has courted controversy. As both a government spokesman for an anti-communist task force and commander of the military’s Southern Luzon Command, Parlade has in recent months been on a “red-tagging” spree, publicly accusing leftist activists but also journalists and celebrities of being either members or supporters of the New People’s Army communist insurgency.
Communist-baiting has long been part of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign, and over the years has been linked to many killings. The deadly practice has continued to the present. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found in a June 2020 report “red-tagging” in the Philippines has “posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression.”
The problem does not start and stop with Parlade. President Rodrigo Duterte has frequently used “red tagging” to attack leftist critics of his administration. In November, Duterte singled out Congressman Carlos Zarate as a communist. In previous public statements, other Duterte administration officials likewise “red-tagged” their critics.
“Red-tagging” constricts further the increasingly diminished democratic space in the Philippines, where activists, rights lawyers, journalists, and even ordinary Filipinos on social media are under threat. The military’s investigation into Parlade should be both thorough and impartial, and this should be the start of larger efforts to hold to account all government officials who give a wink and a nod to extrajudicial killings by their “red-tagging.”