At this time of COVID-19 pandemic and severe hardship, the Duterte government should focus on the fight against the deadly virus and comprehensively address its devastating impacts on the people. It should do more in serving the people and refrain from blaming the people to cover up its failures and negligence.
After months of lockdown, hunger especially on the poor was unbearable while middle-income families also suffered. Duterte and his bureaucrats repeatedly declared big funds (at least P275 billion), with loans ($1.5 billion from Asian Development Bank and $100 million from World Bank) and foreign donations for state subsidies and economic aid. Despite enormous funds, the reality on the ground is different. Even medical measures such as mass testing is scarce and problematic. And the suffering of the people will be more unprecedented if the Duterte government will not seriously prioritize the fight against the COVID-19 virus and address its socio-economic impacts, especially because the availability and mass production of the anti-COVID-19 vaccine will take months and even years.
Instead of prioritizing resources in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, State security forces are hell-bent on red-tagging (branding as communists and NPA supporters or front organizations) of activists and progressive organizations using public resources. Red-tagging by experience endanger the security and lives of civilian activists, which worsen the problems we face in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Red-tagging is State-perpetrated. Civilians don’t red-tag public officials, that is public criticism. Red-tagging is a serious human rights violation and a precursor of assassinations and extrajudicial killings with impunity. Killings continue with impunity because it is the State doing it. State armed forces and their minions demonize activists, human rights defenders, critics and opposition to condition the minds of the public that killings, violence and bloodshed is acceptable. Impunity is at its worst under the Duterte regime especially when innocent families and children are targeted and destroyed.
2. There can be no meaningful discourse if red-tagging is the intent with troll attacks. And there is no civilized discussion if our innocent families and children are attacked and dragged into the dirty tactics of the AFP, PNP and their minions and trolls. In fact, there is no discussion at all in this context. We don’t discuss with cowards who red-tag and attack civilians and their families. I don’t go down to the level of reactionary rantings and tirades. Not worth patulan dagita. In fact, it is a challenge on how fake accounts and trolls should be terminated in Facebook and social media.
3. There is no honor and respect in red-tagging, vilifying, and persecuting activists who voluntarily and selflessly stand and fight for peoples’ interests and welfare. Activism is not terrorism and crime. It is a noble cause that we should all be proud of. We are human rights defenders, indigenous people’s rights defenders, and environment defenders. We are activists for the people. Our track-record in the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) clearly speaks of it. Our existence and sustained growth through decades of struggle as people’s movement in the face of constant State terrorism and attacks against us is a proof to that. As a desperate act now, they included directly attacking our families and children which is the dirtiest and most evil means.
4. So why is CPA being attacked? Because CPA has consistently asserted and fought for the people and continues to defend their rights against the exploitation and oppression by the few ruling elites and their foreign masters. It is because of our track-record of serving the people that we are being attacked, killed, and demonized by State forces and big capitalists whose investments and projects plunder our resources, violate our collective rights to our ancestral lands and self determination.
To maintain the status quo and prevent change and reforms for the betterment of our people, State instrumentalities tag and malign the CPA and its leaders as CPP-NPA fronts or terrorist fronts to justify their attacks. This is done to perpetuate the social pyramid in our society which is the root cause of the sufferings of the people.
The brute force, deception, and political persecution of the state cannot silence us because our organization, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, is an organization of the people. We speak and represent our organizations and network in advancing the collective interest and welfare of the people. Which is why in spite of state-perpetrated killings, attacks and human rights violations we exist and grew stronger through the years.
Our resistance against development aggression and plunder in defense of our ancestral lands is criminalized and tagged as terrorism. But we continue to be inspired by our martyrs and heroes in the Cordillera peoples movement. For honor is there in the struggle to defend our land, life and resources for the present and future generations. There is shame and dishonor in red-tagging, oppressing and exploiting our fellow Igorots and Cordillerans.
5. Now, under this Covid-19 pandemic, even our relief operations and medical assistance thru the Serve The People Brigade and Health For the People Brigade are also being maligned by units of the AFP, PNP and their minions. Food relief and medical supplies are badly needed by the people now. In fact, we are helping in filling the gap and failure of the government to provide enough aid and support to the people. Look, what kind of thinking is this? If you just drop black propaganda flyers from the air through helicopters wasting public resources instead of spending for food, PPEs, mass testing, and treating COVID patients, shame on you!
6. So, what kind of AFP and PNP do we have when they systematically attack civilians and unarmed activists instead of protecting them? What kind of PNP and justice system we have in the country when a police general and senator are not apprehended when violating ECQ rules? Yet, poor and hungry people demanding food and those conducting relief operations are red-tagged and imprisoned. What kind of state forces will sabotage civilian relief operations and services to the people? In the first place, we should not be doing this if the national government is responsible enough in doing its functions.
7. We should also remind public officials like Sadanga Mayor Ganggangan to be open for public criticism. Government officials and chief executives should be politically matured enough to deal with public criticisms and refrain from red-tagging in retaliation. Experience and lessons show that irresponsible statements on red-tagging and political vilification from State forces and government authorities result in assassinations, killings, and chaos in our society. You are in government position to serve the people and you are paid for by the people. Don’t use your position to attack civilians. Don’t allow yourselves to be minions of the AFP in committing human rights violations. Don’t let your name be tainted with blood by just blindly following orders from this fascist Duterte regime.
I suggest to some of the local government officials to be careful in rejecting relief packs and cash assistance because doing so will put especially the people in urgent need of support at the losing end. This is not the time for political grandstanding. It has been months of lockdown and loss of livelihood. Economic aid and support are much needed at this time of hardship and pandemic which is expected to prolong for several months and beyond until the discovery and mass production of anti-COVID-19 vaccine. The current situation will bring us to the issue of hunger and survival especially for the poor and middle-income people. The government and state forces should not deviate from this urgent task and refrain from red-tagging and political vilification.
To the trolls and fictitious Facebook accounts, you may gain financially from what you are doing but you know that manufacturing fake news, lies and direct threats is totally wrong. Why don’t we just cooperate and contribute what we can in supporting the people especially those in dire need at this time of severe crisis? That is what we are and should be as human beings.
Again, let’s not divert from the urgent issue and problem we face today: COVID-19. Let’s continue pushing the government to do more of its obligations and prioritize aid for the people to fight COVID-19 as we continue our initiatives as peoples organizations to do what we can in this collective undertaking to cope up with the pandemic’s impacts on the people.