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‘Red-tagging’ threat fails to frighten Filipino religious leaders

Religious superiors urge Catholics to be courageous and not to be duped by fake news

This photo taken on Dec 10, 2020, shows protesters with slogans against

This photo taken on Dec 10, 2020, shows protesters with slogans against "red-tagging" on their hats and placards as they take part in a protest to commemorate International Human Rights Day near the presidential palace in Manila.

Published: July 20, 2022 08:28 AM GMT

Updated: July 20, 2022 09:20 AM GMT

The Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines have vowed not to back down from taking a strong stance against mismanagement and corruption despite a government threat of being labeled “communists”

In a statement on July 17, the religious superiors said “red-tagging” would not deter them from criticizing the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos Junior on issues such as graft.

“Some among our ranks were red-tagged; irresponsible labels and name-calling will not cow us. To serve the people of God is never wrong. To be in solidarity with the struggles, dreams and hopes of our people is demanded by our life of consecration to God and his people,” the group said.

Red-tagging is the malicious labeling of individuals or groups or both as “terrorists” or “communists” for criticizing the government.

Also known as red-baiting, the malpractice has been used by successive governments in the Philippines to crackdown on the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, since 1969.

The authorities defended the campaign as part of counter-insurgency measures, but continued to accuse activists, journalists, politicians, and various organizations publicly, of being directly involved in the fighting or supporting the NPA, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in January this year.

"The government of former president, Rodrigo Duterte, made red-tagging deadlier"

Red-tagging has led to a large number of extrajudicial killings and torture of alleged communists by the Philippine military over past decades.

The government of former president, Rodrigo Duterte, made red-tagging deadlier, HRW said. Duterte created the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), led by former military officials. He made red-tagging an official policy which was carried out through the task force’s social media posts and official pronouncements.

The administration in 2021 started labeling senior Catholic officials as communist sympathizers for criticizing Duterte’s deadly war on drugs that left thousands of suspected drug dealers and users dead.

One of Duterte’s communications staff once labeled missionary Benedictine nun, Sister Mary John Mananzan, as a member of an “international terrorist organization” for condemning the extrajudicial killings.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, president of the Catholic bishops’ conference slammed the red-tagging of Church leaders as “ridiculous” and said it had brought back memories of martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Senior.

“I think there is a reason for people to be afraid when that becomes a trend… It sort of brings back to memory the times when we were under authoritarian rule," Bishop David said in 2021.

"The Church will not and cannot be neutral on moral and ethical issues and concerns"

The superiors likewise asserted that they would continue to stand up for the truth as they could not remain neutral on moral and ethical issues.

“We must speak the truth within the ambit of systematic disinformation, misinformation, historical distortions, and the like, as the Church will not and cannot be neutral on moral and ethical issues and concerns,” the superiors said.

They have also called on Catholics to fact-check and avoid being duped by fake news.

“Let us align and work with truth-tellers, justice & peace and human rights defenders, environmental advocates and civil society organizations. These are our strengths,” they said.

Catholic clergy in the Philippines publicly backed former vice president Leni Robredo ahead of the May 9 presidential election.

Church leaders and critics say Marcos Jr’s election campaign was characterized by disinformation and historical revisionism. Marcos’ supporters allegedly attempted the whitewashing of Philippine history by claiming the martial law years were the “golden era” in Philippine history.

"I hope there will more like the late Cardinal Sin among our bishops today to guide the people to stand up against corruption"

A member of Akbayan, a left-leaning political party, lauded the religious superiors for their courageous stance, adding that it inspires critics of Marcos Jr and victims of his father’s human rights violations.

“It is different when we listen or read statements of clergymen urging the Filipino people not to give up democracy and basic civil liberties. It gives meaning not only for us to be good Filipinos but to be good Catholics,” Joey Gumba told UCA News.

Gumba noted the significant role of the Catholic Church in upholding human rights, protecting democracy and ousting Marcos Sr.

“Our Catholic Church leaders played a very important role in people power. I hope there will more like the late Cardinal Sin among our bishops today to guide the people to stand up against corruption and other social evils,” Gumba added.

Cardinal Jaime Sin, the former archbishop of Manila, encouraged millions of Filipinos to march along a highway in Manila in 1986 to pray for an end to the dictator's regime. The subsequent “People Power” revolution forced the ouster of Marcos who later fled the country.

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