By Daniel Llanto

The spokesperson for the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) labeled CNN Philippines a leftist organization for airing an appeal for donations to typhoon victims.

Some lawmakers sought an end to this practice by realigning the PHP19-billion fund allotted for NTF-ELCAC in the proposed 2021 national budget for victims of the devastating typhoon Ulysses instead.

NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lorraine Marie Badoy red-tagged CNN Philippines, part of the huge CNN International network, for sharing on Twitter an appeal for donations from the League of Filipino Students (LFS) to help families left homeless by the destructive floods caused by first typhoon Rolly and then typhoon Ulysses.

Badoy, an assistant secretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office, said the LFS is a “known front” of the Communist Party of the Philippines, its armed wing the New People’s Army, and the coalition of underground communist organizations National Democratic Front.

Since the Senate investigation of red-tagging opened last week, Senate Minority Leader Francis Drilon has been pushing for the highly contested NTF-ELCAC funds to be realigned to augment the State’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts to victims of the recent typhoons and the government’s COVID-19 programs.

Drilon on November 16 said NTF-ELCAC work is no more than a witch-hunt while the need to rebuild the lives of thousands of families destroyed by typhoon Ulysses is more urgent. The typhoon left 67 dead and wrecked 25,852 houses.

At the Senate hearing, Amnesty International representatives urged an end to this “deadly practice.”

Badoy believed there is an LFS “cell” in CNN Philippines. But CNN Philippines dismissed this and pushed back against Badoy’s red-tagging, saying it “strongly objects” to this “misplaced and baseless allusion.”

“We believe the back-to-back storms that ravaged our country compels us to rise up from the ruins and practice the Filipino spirit of bayanihan in whatever capacity we can, rather than foray into red-tagging that will only sow disunity,” the TV network said.

It explained that the donation call from LFS was only one of the appeals it carried, as it also amplified calls from Caritas Manila, Kaya Natin PH, Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines and more.

Human rights groups have incessantly warned against red-tagging, as those accused can be exposed to harassment, threats to life and even death.

Drilon also noted that membership in the CPP is not illegal, as the Anti-Subversion Law has been repealed. These groups have also not yet been declared as terrorists by local courts.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called Badoy’s red-tagging of CNN Philippines during a calamity “despicable.”

“Such heartless behavior is a disgrace not only to her office but to the whole government she supposedly serves,” the NUJP said in a statement.

The Union added that Badoy’s accusations are “totally irresponsible” and endangers CNN Philippines journalists, and members of LFS.

This was not the first time that members of the NTF-ELCAC baselessly red-tagged media organizations.

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., another spokesperson for the NTF-ELCAC, baselessly claimed that communist rebels have “infiltrated” all media outlets, with some of them even supposedly ascending to management posts.

The NUJP decried Parlade’s statement, saying the General “painted a virtual target on everyone who mans the country’s news desks and newsrooms” and has “slandered the whole industry.”

Amnesty International called on the Philippine government to end its vicious and at times deadly practice of red-tagging – the labeling of groups or individuals perceived to be critical of the government as “communists” or “terrorists”.  

The group said instead of maligning and endangering people for the lawful exercise of their freedom of expression, the government should seek to address legitimate criticism of its policies and practices. In the prevailing context where red-tagged individuals become the targets of harassment, threats and even killings, courts and pertinent government agencies must take concrete steps to ensure the safety and protection of these individuals.