Manila – When Filipino film and TV actress Angel Locsin posted her photo on social media in a red dress and wearing red hot lipstick, other female celebrities did the same in solidarity, including artists who rendered illustrations as protest – prompting an internet movement that multiplied to protest red-tagging by the military and government officials supportive of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Locsin’s human rights advocacy and her being outspoken, not to mention her being related to prominent opposition leader, lawyer Neri Colmenares, are the reasons why she is labelled as leftist or sympathetic to the country’s communist insurgents.
Red-tagging, defined by the Philippine Supreme Court as an “act of labeling, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being subversives, communists or terrorists,” is a strategy by the state through the military and law enforcers against those perceived as threats or enemies of the state. The color red has symbolized communism and socialism.
Locsin was red-tagged, along with fellow actress Liza Soberano and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray by the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., who also heads a state task force to end the communist armed conflict.
He cautioned Soberano against being associated with the militant women’s group Gabriela. He also warned Gray not to follow Soberano or Locsin, otherwise they end up being killed like other female combatants under the communist movement’s armed revolution.
Soberano participated in a youth forum organized by Gabriela, named after a Filipino heroine. She stood her ground, stating through her lawyers that her participation did not mean she sympathizes with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing New People’s Army, and that she can exercise her constitutionally-protected freedom to speech and expression.
Gray posted a video of freeing herself from hands covering her mouth. “Please don’t ever allow your voice to be silenced,” she said. “You never know [whose] life may be impacted by your words.”
The beauty queen said on Wednesday that Parlade has apologized for dragging her name into the issue. She criticized the military general for calling attention to himself in attacking her and other women, saying he could have directed his concern to the celebrities themselves if his intention was to advise against affiliating with certain groups. “The way that it all unfolded, he says his intention was to warn, however it (became a) concern within the community. I feel like it could have been done better,” she said.
She called for caution in this age of misinformation. “I wish people would take care, if you’re a government official, a public servant, in the entertainment industry or wherever work you find yourself, it’s very important to be careful (with) the information you take as truth and to research and fact-check before making public statements,” Gray said.
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno chimed in by calling on victims of red tagging to use the law to go after those responsible for vilifying them. “You can sue for injunction, damages, libel, amparo, or habeas data,” he said, adding that administrative complaints can be filed against military personnel, and that court-martial can also play a role in fighting red-tagging.
He also referred the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations as possible avenues to seek legal remedy. “If these things can happen to actresses and public figures, they can also do it to ordinary people,” he said.
The Philippine military has admitted that it has, under its surveillance, left-leaning political parties in Congress, and this includes Gabriela. It is now more empowered by the anti-terrorism law that was recently passed in Congress.
Labelling and red-tagging, which observers say is a propaganda weapon, has been a practice spearheaded by Duterte himself since he rose to power in 2016, even if he has courted the support of leftist groups early in his campaign when he promised to resolve the more than five-decade Maoist-inspired insurgency in the country.