Red-tagging issue haunts AFP VisCom chief during CA debate
MANILA, Philippines — A red-tagging controversy involving Lieutenant General Benedict Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Visayas Command chief, was raised on Tuesday during the Commission on Appointments (CA) national defense panel deliberations on the designation of 50 military generals and officers.
Senator Risa Hontiveros pointed out that Arevalo in 2021 was relieved of his post as Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations, along with the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, “due to his then-department at the AFP releasing and posting an erroneous list on social media of alleged New People’s Army (NPA) guerillas.”
The list, she noted, included an alumni of the University of the Philippines whom the AFP alleged had become a communist guerilla.
“You know that Red-tagging threatens the lives and safety of individuals. This is a massive intrusion into a person’s right to privacy due to surveillance and harassment that may result in unlawful arrests, enforced disappearances and even killings…Red-tagging is disinformation, enabling fraud and violence,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Hontiveros noted that then-Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had cleared Arevalo, saying he was not “directly responsible” for the wrongdoing.
But, she asked, is Red-tagging a policy of the AFP?
“Definitely not. What happened in that time, I already took responsibility as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations. And we also learned some lessons from what happened. That’s why the AFP is very careful now in actually crossing the line on these kinds of issues,” Arevalo said.
He said there was a mixup of files, which led to the release of the AFP list.
“The report coming from the Intelligence was mixed up with the reports of the Civil Military Operations. The mixup actually caused the release of the names inadvertently. Maybe an oversight. As I’ve said, there’s nobody to blame except me as the J7 during the time,” Arevalo recalled.
He said a public apology was later posted on his Facebook page following his mistake.
But when asked if there were people on the list who reacted or replied to the apology, Arevalo said the page had been shut down.
“I don’t know if they were able to react or reply to the said information,” he added.
Arevalo said the AFP had also been stricter with its social media policy after the incident.
“It has to really conform with the community standards of social media. Seeing to it that it is strictly supervised not just by the concerned staff but also the chiefs of offices and the commanders themselves,” he said.
Hontiveros lauded Arevalo for taking responsibility for his mistake but asked that the AFP devise means that will directly relay their apology to the affected persons.
Despite his red-tagging issue, Arevalo’s appointment to the rank of Lieutenant General was still approved by the committee and recommended for confirmation to the CA plenary.