March 5, 2024

■  Rimaliza A. Opiña 

ESTEEMED VISITOR — Members of the city council led by Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan warmly welcomed United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan and personnel of the Office of the President during their visit in Baguio City for a dialogue with select groups. — Contributed photo

No one is spared from allegations of having links with the underground movement, including Baguio City officials.

This concern about military and police officials and civilians with links to the anti-insurgency arm of the government branding some city officials as terrorists on suspicion of having links with the New People’s Army has reached the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

As an offshoot of the meeting between UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan and select civil society organizations on Jan. 26, the city council wrote the official informing her about the continuous red-tagging and vilification against them.

In an undated letter, the city council informed Khan red-tagging persists despite the resolution declaring Baguio as an inclusive human rights city.

The city council is also in the process of passing an ordinance meant to strengthen and support adherence to human rights in Baguio. 

The council cited the red-tagging by former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict spokesperson Lorraine Badoy of Mayor Benjamin Magalong in 2022; the inclusion of human rights lawyer, now city Councilor Jose Molintas, and human rights defender UN Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz in the 656 names petitioned by the Department of Justice to be included as members of the NPA in 2018; and on the same year, the release of a white paper calling Councilor Arthur Allad-iw an NPA sympathizer.

The council said these incidents require a review of policies about respect for the freedom of expression from the local to the national level.

“The impact of these on our roles as duty bearers are not as daunting as those of our constituents directly targeted with red-tagging and disinformation. However, this brings to light the need for policy review from the local to the national level regarding the respect for the freedom of expression, freedom of association and the people’s right to dissent,” stated the letter.

The city council has submitted three recommendations that Khan include in her report about her visit in the Philippines.

These are for State accountability on red- tagging and political vilification of people’s organizations, human rights defenders, and indigenous peoples; passage of local and national laws that contain mechanisms for the protection of freedom of speech and expression and for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists; and technical support from the UN on mechanisms for redress with regards to disinformation in cyberspace.

Khan was in Baguio last week for a dialogue concerning the state of human rights in the Philippines.

She was assisted by staff members of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security.