Disinformation, red-tagging of opposition lawmakers in PH ‘increased alarmingly’ ahead of 2022 elections — APHR
Disinformation and the red-tagging of Filipino opposition lawmakers “increased alarmingly” ahead of the May 2022 polls, according to the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
According to the APHR report, former Vice President Leni Robredo—main rival to now-President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the 2022 presidential election—was the “prime target of intensified disinformation and red-tagging in social media leading up to election day.”
The APHR is a regional network of current and former parliamentarians with the aim of advancing human rights and democracy in Southeast Asia.
The APHR said Robredo was repeatedly “red-tagged” by government officials, including Lorraine Badoy, the former spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Citing the Philippine courts, the APHR defined red-tagging as “the act of labeling, branding, naming, and accusing individuals and organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists, or terrorists [used as] a strategy… by state agents….against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies’ of the state.”
The report said that elected representatives, members, and supporters of the Makabayan bloc, a coalition of progressive left-wing party lists in the House of Representatives, were also red-tagged by the government as a legal front for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
In 2017, the government classified the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist organizations,” according to the report.
“Despite the fact that the Makabayan bloc repeatedly rejected the government’s accusations, such red-tagging statements were posted on social media, especially Facebook pages of government agencies and public officials,” the APHR said.
“They were shared widely by netizens, resulting in threats, violence, and sometimes deaths of members and supporters of the Makabayan bloc,” it added.
In response to this, Badoy claimed that APHR may be “the latest victim of deception” of the CPP-NPA-NDF due to its “alliance building” with the Makabayan bloc.
“Because the unequivocal truth is the Makabayan Bloc are all urban operatives of the CPP-NPA-NDF who are in Congress not to represent the interests of the Filipino people but the interest of the CPP-NPA-NDF which is one thing and one thing alone: the violent overthrow of government to make of us a communist state,” she said in a statement.
“This is not ‘disinformation’ but information of the highest accuracy that no less than President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, then President of the Republic of the Philippines, declared it and asked our countrymen not to vote for these urban operatives of this terrorist organization.”
Badoy also said that there is no such thing as “red-tagging,” citing the Supreme Court, that “there is no danger to life, liberty and security when one is identified as a member of the CPP-NPA-NDF.”
This interpretation by Badoy of a Supreme Court ruling has been disputed by the Commission on Human Rights.
The APHR also said that a number of attacks were recorded in 2022 against Senator Risa Hontiveros and House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers party-list Representative France Castro.
It also highlighted a “disturbing trend that emerged: misogynist harassment and attacks” against women lawmakers and candidates, saying that the “viciousness of misogynistic attacks intensified” during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.
Meanwhile, the APHR said the landslide victory of Marcos and Vice President Sara Duterte in the elections was “due in great part to a successful campaign of disinformation and red-tagging against opposition parties and political dissenters, including lawmakers.”
“It is also concerning that online misogynist attacks seem to have taken root and have been strategically deployed to target and undermine the credibility of women lawmakers and candidates who have been known to express dissent and hold those in power accountable,” it said.
“The new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. may continue such a campaign to silence criticism and consolidate power and deploy the same tactics in future elections. This undoubtedly will pose a greater risk to opposition lawmakers in the next six years,” it added.
GMA News Online reached out to Reynold Munsayac, spokesperson for the Office of the Vice President, and Senator Christopher "Bong" Go, a longtime aide to former President Duterte, but both have yet to give their response.
In October 2022, a study launched at Harvard University showed how "influence operations" and disinformation innovations had impacted the 2022 Philippine elections.
The study, titled “Parallel Public Spheres: Influence Operations in the 2022 Philippine Elections,” stated that influence operations ushered in their "most harmful" effect on healthy political deliberation during the elections, which "stoked political fandoms’ biases and aggravated tendencies for affective polarization.”
In May 2022, fact-checking group Tsek.ph said Robredo and Marcos remained the primary targets of disinformation in the presidential race, with false or misleading information about Marcos being favorable to him while the disinformation targeting Robredo was negative. — with Giselle Ombay/VBL/BM, GMA Integrated News