Red-tagging a vicious form of fake news

By: Ellen Tordesillas

When we talk of fake news and disinformation, we think of social media. That’s understandable because this is the era of Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Instagram and other social media platforms.

But the list of alleged CPP-NPA members prepared by unidentified sources delivered during an event last Friday in Cagayan de Oro reminds us that the old form of disinformation is still being done and it’s viciousness has not diminished a bit.

There was a launching of Hustisya Northern Mindanao, a group made up of victims of martial law in Mindanao which began during the siege of Marawi City in on March 23, 2017 and has not been lifted up to now, at the Philtown Hotel in Cagayan de Oro city.

As related by Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, at around 10:30 a.m., a man approached the security guard of the hotel and handed him two brown envelopes.

“Each envelope contained 13 copies of flyers listing organizations of youth and teachers, and tagging names of church workers, lawyers, rights advocates and that of a journalist, as ‘terrorist members of the New People’s Army and Communist Party of the Philippines’,” Palabay said.

Among those listed in the leaflet were Iglesia Filipino Independiente Bishop Felixberto Calang, Fr. Rolando Abejo of the Movement Against Tyranny-Northern Mindanao, Karapatan Northern Mindanao spokesperson Fr. Khen Apus, human rights lawyers Beverly Musni, Czarina Musni, and Beverly Ann Musni and Cagayan de Oro-based journalist Cong Corrales and his family.

Fake news are falsified information disguised as news spread through one or several platforms, including social media, to deliberately deceive the audience and advance political, ideological, social or economic interest.

The list bore the main attributes of fake news: “falsified information” and manufactured to “deliberately deceive the audience and advance political, ideological, social or economic interest.”

The telltale signs were also there: the author of the list is not identified. The man who delivered the list also was not identified.

Palabay deplored the “notorious lists” saying that they have further endangered the already perilous situation of human rights defenders. “

“We have repeatedly raised how these arbitrary and baseless accusations incite threats to the lives and security of named individuals, the worst of which is that they become victims of extrajudicial killings,” she added.

Media groups denounced the inclusion in the list of the name of Leonardo Vicente “Cong” Corrales, associate editor of Cagayan de Oro City newspaper Mindanao Gold Star Daily, and members of his family.

“There is nothing more cowardly and deplorable than to vilify persons and put them in mortal peril behind the cloak of anonymity,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said.

NUJP expressed the concern that as has happened all too often, red- tagging is not mere intimidation. “All too often it can be a virtual death sentence,” the group, who has seen many of its members red-tagged, said.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility noted that “red- tagging, particularly those who are vocal against the current administration’s policies, has become a new form of harassment against journalists and other regime critics. Recent cases include the branding as pro-communist of Davao-based radio broadcaster Kath Cortez by an unidentified individual who sent her threatening text messages in December 2017. NUJP itself was linked to the CPP-NPA by three tabloids on 7 January 2019. The organization was branded as an “enemy of the state” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a 2006 presentation that is still being used today.”

CMFR said “Philippine laws on subversion have long been repealed. In the context of President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent directives to ‘destroy the CPP’ and its ‘legal fronts,’ arbitrarily linking journalists to the revolutionary movement encourages further attacks and continue the orchestrated harassment of the media that have been happening since December 2018, including the cyber-attacks on alternative news sites and the arrest of Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa, who is free on bail, on a cyber-libel charge last February 13.”

Corrales condemned the inclusion of his name and his family in what he called “military hitlist.”

“We are not, have never been and never will be members of CPP,” he told the Inquirer.

Corrales said his wife is the marketing executive of Gold Star Daily, while his son works with the Commission on Elections-10.

“Our credentials are readily available. We denounce this list as it does not only intimidate me in my work as a journalist but has endangered my family. We know fully well that red-tagging is a virtual death sentence.

But, he said, “I will not let this cowardly act push me to silence. I will continue speaking the truth.”

Human Rights Watch issued a statement expressing deep concern to the “red-tagging” done on Corrales, his son, and his wife, along with several other local activists and human-rights defenders.

“There is no other way to describe the list but as a threat against the lives of those in it. Dozens of individuals have been targeted for extrajudicial or summary killing in the Philippines after they were labeled as communist.

Although this violence has been happening even before the Duterte administration, the impunity for killings – whether drug-related or political — in the present government has made this type of threat even more worrisome. The government, particularly the military and law enforcers, should back off Corrales and his family and the other ‘red-tagged’ individuals,” HRW said. (