Philippines: Journalists falsely ‘red-tagged’ by military

Two Filipino journalists were falsely labelled by the country’s military as being members of the Philippines terrorist group the New People’s Army along with other prominent graduates of the University of the Philippines on January 21. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in condemning these unsubstantiated and highly dangerous claims.

A post to the AFP Facebook page red tagging University of the Philippines graduates. Credit: Facebook

The Facebook posts named Agence France Presse bureau chief for Singapore and Malaysia, Roberto ‘Bobby’ Coloma, and business journalist Roel Landingin, along with 25 other graduates of the university as being New People’s Army members.

The posts, which have since been removed, were published on the Facebook page of the official military information outlet, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Information Exchange. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has since apologised for releasing the list. In a statement posted to Facebook, the AFP wrote, “we sincerely apologise for those who were inadvertently affected by inconsistencies regarding the ‘List of Students who joined the NPA (Died or Captured)’… personnel who are responsible will be held to account.”

Red tagging, by which individuals are publicly smeared or falsely labelled as being Communists or terrorists, is an established and frequently-used method used to undermine and endanger media organisations and journalists perceived as being critical of the Philippines’ Duterte government. The IFJ has documented multiple incidents of journalist red tagging over the past year. In October 2020, The Manila Times published an editorial cartoon highlighting the practice. In May 2020, photographs of journalist Rowena “Weng” Carranza-Paraan were maliciously twisted in a red-tagging incident.

The recently signed anti-terror law allows for the arrest of those suspected of involvement in terror activities without a warrant, thus exposing the 27 individuals named without vetting by the AFP to possible imprisonment or public retaliation.

NUJM said: “The very real danger is how those who wield the armed might of the state can so easily and brazenly engage in such obvious and deadly falsehoods without any thought to the consequences. We, the community of independent Filipino journalists, denounce this dangerous slander against Bobby Coloma and Roel Landingin and all those so falsely accused by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations.We shall not let this pass. You will be held to account.

The IFJ said: “This incident demonstrates the continuing baseless accusations and vilification of media workers in the Philippines which poses a real and present risk to journalists. The IFJ condemns the alarming dissemination of misinformation from the AFP and calls for greater measures to safeguard the rights of journalists in the Philippines.

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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