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Philippines: End Deadly ‘Red-Tagging’ of Activists

UN, Influential Governments Should Press President Duterte to Stop Practice

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Cristina Palabay, Human rights defender

It’s not just simply saying that “Cristina Palabay is a member of the communist group.” It’s usually followed by a threat.

Mylene Cabalona, Workers’ rights activist

As early as 2018, we saw posts from different police pages of our faces. We were terrified.

Cong Corrales, Journalist

It said that I have a one million [pesos = US$20,000] bounty on my head. I must admit I was really scared for my security and my family.


These people have been red-tagged. Being red-tagged in the Philippines means the government is accusing you of being a New People’s Army fighter or a supporter of the communist insurgency. The red-tagging is usually done through social media posts or being called out in government news releases or press conferences. The United Nations Human Rights Council and other governments should denounce this tactic and put pressure on the Philippine government to stop red-tagging. In addition, the Philippine government should investigate incidents of red-tagging that have led to killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.

Red-tagging is a relic of the Cold War that the Philippine government uses that the Philippine government uses to try to vanquish the 52-year-old communist insurgency. But it’s not just insurgents that  the government targets. The list of targets has expanded to include activists, journalists, and human rights defenders. Anyone who dares to criticize the government can be red-tagged.


Cong Corrales,  Editor, Mindanao Gold Star Daily

This [is] an unfortunate part of our job as journalists and because of this red-tagging I can see that I may be on the right track. Because why would they be so panic-stricken to silence me?



Red-tagging goes far beyond mere hateful rhetoric. Because many of those red-tagged have been killed being red-tagged essentially means you are on a hit list.


Cristina Palabay, Secretary-General, Karapatan

It was International Human Rights Day. December 2018. Someone called me up, called me a slut, called me a whore, many other bad stuff and then he told me that I may end up getting raped aside from being killed.


Mylene Cabalona, President

BPO Industry Employees Network

I feel threatened.  I stopped going home. I stayed at the office.  I took my baths there, I slept there . My supervisor who was very supportive would tell me not to go out because there may be people following me.



This practice has become so widespread that protests are taking place against it. Red-tagging is part of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign but by shutting down critical voices of activists, human rights defenders, and journalists it is shrinking democratic space in the Philippines.






(Manila) – The Philippine government should end the “red-tagging” of activists as rebels or supporters of the communist insurgency, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a video about the threatening practice and its impact. The video features a human rights activist, a workers’ rights advocate, and a journalist whom the authorities have red-tagged.

Red-tagging, also known as red-baiting, has been used for decades in the Philippines in the government’s campaign against the communist New People’s Army (NPA), which began in 1969. The government’s counterinsurgency efforts include publicly accusing activists, journalists, politicians, and others and their organizations of being directly involved in the fighting or supporting the NPA. The Philippine military has long been responsible for large numbers of extrajudicial killings and torture of alleged communists.

“Red-tagging is a pernicious practice that targets people who often end up being harassed or even killed,” said Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Red-tagging is rapidly shrinking the space for peaceful activism in the Philippines.”

Red-tagging has become deadlier since Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016. Duterte created the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), with billions of pesos at its disposal, making red-tagging his government’s official policy. The task force is composed of, and headed by, former military officials. It carries out red-tagging through its social media posts and official pronouncements.

Civil society groups have called for the task force to be defunded or abolished. Domestic human rights groups contend that the task force’s red-tagging often precipitates violence against those named. Karapatan, a domestic human rights group whose members are often targets of red-tagging, says that dozens of red-tagged activists have been killed or arrested. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has denounced these killings.

In the Human Rights Watch video, Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, describes how she was harassed and threatened with rape and violence as part of the red-tagging. Mylene Cabalona, president of the BPO Industry Employees’ Network, says that her work to advocate for the welfare of call-center workers has led to threats online, including accusations of rebel links. Cong Corrales, editor of the Mindanao Gold Star Daily, a newspaper in the southern Philippines, says he and has family have been accused of being communist supporters because of his writing.

“Red-tagging is a key component of the Philippine government’s abusive campaign against critical activists, journalists, and politicians,” Conde said. “The United Nations, the European Union, and influential governments should not merely denounce red-tagging, but publicly call on President Duterte to end this deadly practice.”

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