A Catholic missionary priest said human rights defenders in the Philippines, including church workers, continue to face threats to their lives.
“We know that if we start talking for justice, and equality, and freedom and equality, fairness, you will always be put in a box and be branded like communist, terrorist,” said Carmelite priest Christian Buenafe, chairperson of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.
He decried how human rights and church workers are branded as “terrorist” while “they have the most Christian intention to help our brothers and sisters who are in most need.”
In an interview over Radio Veritas 846, the priest said that the threats and challenges will not prevent them from doing their mission “to serve the people and to become instruments of the mercy and compassion of the Lord.”
“Let us not be afraid even if we are branded, or red-tagged,” said Father Buenafe, adding that the call of the Gospel is very clear, that is, “You will be persecuted because of my name, you will be put in jail, you will be killed, but be assured that I’m always with you.'”
A Human Rights Watch report released on January 12 noted the persistent “red-tagging” of activists and the continuing attacks on media practitioners in the Philippines.
HRW’s World Report 2023 said government and military officials continue to accuse civil society groups of being supporters of communist New People’s Army insurgents.
The group said that such accusations have become part of what is commonly known in the country as “red-tagging” and put the accused at heightened risk of attack by the security forces or unidentified gunmen.
The report noted that the military, police, and other national security forces “have actively used social media to convey ‘red tagging’ threats.
HRW cited the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of accusing numerous political activists of being members of the Communist Party, including former Vice President Leni Robredo.
The task force has also red-tagged journalists, book publishers, and international nongovernmental groups, including Oxfam.
The report said leaders and lawyers of peasant organizations and human rights groups who were “red-tagged” have been physically harmed by government security forces and vigilantes while some have been killed.
In June, Clarita Carlos, the new chairperson of the National Security Council, publicly said that she did not favor red-tagging. Despite this declaration, the practice continued, said the HRW report.