Cops behind red-tagging of Baguio journalist – CHR
BAGUIO CITY, Benguet — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the Cordillera has ruled that a local journalist was red-tagged in online posts made by groups that included a Benguet town police office two years ago.
Addressing a complaint filed in June 2020 by Khim Russel Abalos, a contributor to the Northern Dispatch, the CHR resolution said government officials engaged in Red-tagging had violated various civil liberties they were supposed to protect.
It admonished the La Trinidad police office in Benguet’s capital town for posting infographics on June 1, 2020, that described Abalos as a supposed “rabble-rouser” for the communist movement by “arousing students’ anger toward the government, organizing rallies to expose student activists and mobilizing students to join the New People’s Army.”
The post on the La Trinidad police’s social media page warned its readers about Abalos, “Hwag [sic] magtiwala at magpaloko sa 1,2,3 ni Khim Abalos (Do not trust and fall for the con of Khim Abalos).” The post had been taken down.
In December last year, the CHR subpoenaed Maj. Cleff Vencio, who was La Trinidad’s chief of police when the posts were made. Earlier in October 2021, the agency had also subpoenaed Vencio’s successor, Lt. Col. Nestor Cusi.
“But no reply was received by this office,” stated the resolution to Case No. 2021-0063, which was dated Feb. 18 but released only on April 1.
The current La Trinidad chief of police, Lt. Col. Rodelio Olsim, has not issued any statement regarding the CHR resolution, saying in a Tuesday text message that he was not a party to the case.
In a social media post, Abalos expressed his appreciation of CHR’s conclusion and revealed that he had not been attacked online after the complaint was filed.
Red-tagging posts made by government employees violate their victims’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right of individuals to security and liberty, said CHR lawyer Joan Cadio Toyokan, who penned the resolution.
She advised the police against “red-baiting” individuals by labeling them as terrorists and communist rebels.
Instead, “any credible accusation must be pursued through the rule of law, cognizable charges, compliance with due process, and the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent, and impartial authority,” the resolution said in a set of recommendations.
It cited reports and assessments that some individuals, who were Red-tagged, had been harmed.
“As found in the [CHR Philippines] report, there is substantial indication that Red-tagging threatens the lives and safety of individuals,” the resolution said.
It added: “The act of red-tagging human rights defenders and activists … creates a distortion of the nature of their work and makes them susceptible to attacks.”
Toyokan pointed out that freedom of expression is not absolute, but the state “may only take limited measures to restrict the right and only in narrow conditions and circumstances.”
The resolution also addressed the May 2020 post on the social media page of a group called “1 Philippines Movement for Peace and Development,” which said Abalos was pushing the youth to disrupt and rise up against the government.
A June 2020 post on the same social media page described Abalos as an “NPA recruiter in Baguio.”
In March last year, Baguio Judge Emmanuel Cacho Rasing of the Regional Trial Court Branch 3 issued a writ of amparo (protection) that stopped the Cordillera police from harassing Baguio students Christian Dave Ruz, Deanna Louisse Montenegro, Leandro Enrico Ponce and Keidy Transfiguracion.
Rasing’s order said the police “shall make no social media tarpaulin postings or public postings by any other means branding or tagging the petitioners and [their] organizations … as communist-terrorists, [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA)] front organizations, NPA recruiters and other similar content.”