News

August 14, 2019

Philippine army “red-tagging” leads to threats, violence against journalists

After the Philippine supreme court decided to extend martial law to new regions in the south of the country, protests were organized, as here on 4 July 2017 in Manila. When martial law is declared, habeas corpus and other rights are suspended and the armed forces take control of the territory (photo: Ted Aljibe / AFP).
After one reporter was badly wounded in a shooting last week and soldiers intimidated another the week before, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Philippine military’s practice of turning certain journalists into targets by arbitrarily designating them as “communists.”

Brandon Lee, a US journalist based in Ifugao province, in the northern island of Luzon, was picking up his daughter from school on 6 August when he was ambushed and shot several times, sustaining serious gunshot injuries to the face, neck and back, and nearly dying. After being taken to a hospital in Lagawe, the provincial capital, he was transferred in a critical condition to a hospital in nearby Baguio City.

 

A correspondent for Northern Dispatch (Nordis), a weekly covering northern Luzon, Lee has specialized in covering environmental issues and the difficult conditions of the population in the mountainous region where he lives.

 

Because of the nature of his reporting, the army officially classified him as “red” in 2015, meaning he was regarded as a sympathizer of the clandestine Communist Party of the Philippines or its armed wing, the New People's Army.

 

Known as “red-tagging,” the completely arbitrary practice of labelling persons as “red” or “communist” encourages violence against its victims, especially by paramilitaries. Lee had been “consistently subjected to different threats and harassment, even in social media,” Nordis said.

 

“We call on the Philippine prosecutor’s office to order an immediate independent investigation to find those responsible for this attempt on the life of a journalist who was just doing his job,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

 

“Impunity for crimes of violence against journalists is a scourge that must be combatted with the utmost determination. And to this end, the security forces must start by abolishing the form of stigmatization know as ‘red-tagging,’ of which Brandon Lee is the latest victim.”

 

Martial law

 

Three days before the attack on Lee in the north, members of a local special forces battalion went to the home of  journalist Kristin Lim in Bukidnon province, on the southern island of Mindanao, at around 8:30 p.m. on 3 August and “invited” her to go with them for “questioning.”

 

She refused because they had no warrant, but they returned the next morning and harassed her again. Lim, who has also been “red-tagged” by the military and has received threats in the past, used to be the manager of Radyo Lumad, a local radio station that was forced to close in March. It specialized in covering the problems of indigenous peoples, including illegal land expropriation, in a region under martial law.

 

The Philippines is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.