September 23, 2023

The student council of the University of the Philippines Baguio called on city officials to denounce the alleged surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by military units on students and their families.

Student council officers Iya Trinidad, Angelika Joven, and Kendree Almero sought an audience with the Baguio City Council last April 17. 

Trinidad said five UPB students had been victims of surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by Task Group Baguio in a span of five months. She said these students had been visited by members of Task Group Baguio in their homes and had been accused as “potential recruits” of communist groups.

Almero called these acts “untimely, undemocratic, and unnecessary.” He appealed to the city council to call out and condemn such acts.

Councilor and Sangguniang Kabataan Federation President Levy Lloyd Orcales said during the public consultations regarding the proposed Youth Development Code of Baguio City, a number of students from different universities shared the same experience. 

Orcales said it was the fourth time that student leaders had reached out to the city council to express their recurrent concern with law enforcement agencies.

Councilor Mylen Yaranon said the city council will push for legislation protecting students and other individuals against red-tagging and police/military harassment. 

Incidentally, on the same day, the city council approved on first reading a proposed ordinance establishing a mechanism that protects the rights and fundamental freedom of human rights defenders in the city. 

On April 19, human rights defenders and members of various advocacy groups in the city trooped to the multipurpose hall of the Baguio City Hall to attend the public consultation facilitated by Councilor Jose Molintas. 

The consultation tackled the proposal of the Baguio City Police Office to give incentives to informants of members of communist groups. It also tackled red-tagging incidents in the city including the symposia or fora conducted by uniformed personnel in various schools in the city where various organizations were linked to communist groups and videos containing violent scenes were reportedly shown. 

Participants of the consultation, some of them claimed to have been red-tagged, denounced the vilification of student leaders and human rights defenders by state forces. 

They also opposed the proposed reward system for tipsters as this may result in a “witch hunt.”

They also condemned the conduct of forums in schools where legitimate organizations were branded as belonging to terrorist groups.

They called on the city council to enact legislation that would uphold academic freedom and would guarantee the protection of the youth from police and military intimidation.

Task Group Baguio Commander Cristopher Sab-it said the forums which they conducted in schools were part of their information-education campaign against insurgency in the country. He denied showing graphic videos and pictures during these forums.

Sab-it said he is open for dialogues with the advocacy groups and broached a joint information-education campaign with them. 

Lawyer Joecle Dongla of the CHR-Cordillera said 34 cases of red-tagging were filed before the CHR from 2018 to 2023. Of the number, 18 were dismissed, 13 were resolved with findings on human rights violations, and four are still pending. 

Earlier this year, an advocacy group called Justice and Peace Network in the Cordillera also called on the city council to craft guidelines on banning red-tagging and political vilification.

The group’s appeal was prompted by an incident at Session Road where a policeman allegedly harassed 14 of its members during a chalk art activity on Dec. 4, 2022. According to the group, the police officer allegedly linked their solidarity messages to terrorism.

Molintas said red-tagging is divisive and impinges on the right to free speech. – Jordan G. Habbiling