VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Why ‘red-tagging’ is dangerous

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) drew flak last week from students, artists and human rights activists after it released an unverified list of schools it claimed to be part of the alleged communist-driven “Red October” ouster plot.

AFP Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Antonio Parlade Jr. on Oct. 3 named 18 Metro Manila schools where he said the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) held film screenings about the Marcos martial law to recruit new members.

Many of the schools denied the claim and demanded proof. Meanwhile, news reports pointed out that the “Caloocan City College” does not even exist based on official records.

Amid the ruckus, the AFP admitted that some of the schools it identified are still “subject of continuing validation” – two days after Parlade made the claim.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in a statement said the AFP’s “blanket act of red-tagging” “endangers students.”

What is “red-tagging” and why is it dangerous? Here are four things you need to know.

What is “red-tagging” aka “red-baiting”?

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines “red-tagging” or red-baiting as the harassment or persecution of a person because of “known or suspected communist sympathies.”.”

In his dissenting opinion in Zarate vs. Aquino III, Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen cited a 2011 journal article that defined red-baiting as:

“the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/ or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy…by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State’.”

Petitioners in the case had asked the court for a writ of amparo and writ of habeas data–both aimed at protecting one’s right to life, liberty and security–for allegedly being harassed after being tagged by the military as “communist front organizations.”

While the court dismissed the petition, Leonen said the case involved red-baiting.

The CHR in a text message to VERA Files said it uses the definition of the nonprofit International Peace Observers Network (IPON): “An act of State actors, particularly law enforcement agencies, to publicly brand individuals, groups, or institutions as…affiliated to communist or leftist terrorists.”

The term Red has been used as an informal and offensive label for Communists or Socialists. It references the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, geographically the largest country in the world from 1922 to 1991. The Soviet flag was red, designed with a gold hammer, sickle and star in its upper left corner.

Is the CPP-NPA a terrorist organization?

The CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) was listed as a foreign terrorist organization in the United States in 2002.

On Dec. 5, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the CPP-NPA a terrorist organization.

The Human Security Act of 2007 (HSA) or Republic Act 9372 defines a terrorist organization as any group of persons that commit certain crimes in the Revised Penal Code–like rebellion, coup d’etat, kidnapping, and murder, among others–to sow “widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.”

However, section 17 of the HSA requires the government to seek clearance from the court before an organization is officially declared “terrorist.” The Department of Justice filed a petition with a Manila regional trial court on Feb. 21, but the court has yet to decide the case.

What could happen if you’re red-baited?

Should the court rule in the government’s favor, persons and groups that are suspected—not necessarily proven—to be associated with the CPP-NPA may be put under surveillance, have their assets frozen, or even be detained without charges.

The HSA lists four types of terrorism charges:


Red-baiting in its most extreme can lead to warrantless arrests, torture, enforced disappearances (ED), or worst, extrajudicial killings (EJK), according to IPON’s 2012 study.

“Although Red-Baiting does not necessarily end in these human rights violations, many cases of EJK and ED involve Red-Baiting (sic),” IPON said.

Has red-baiting occurred in the past?


One of the military’s primary strategies against the CPP-NPA under then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was “dismantling civil society organizations” that were purportedly “CPP front groups,” though with little to no proof, based on the 2008 report of United Nations human rights special rapporteur Philip Alston. He called it the “vilification of enemies.”

This resulted in a spate of extrajudicial executions of leftist activists, including human rights defenders, trade unionists and land reform activists, since Arroyo sat in office in 2001, he said.

In a news report, Arroyo’s executive secretary, Eduardo Ermita said the killings were “not a national policy.”

Leonen’s dissenting opinion cited Alston’s findings on red-baiting instances.

The HSA, the country’s principal counter-terrorist legislation, was enacted during Arroyo’s time.


CNN Philippines, AFP official: CPP recruits in Manila schools through martial law film screenings, Oct. 3, 2018.

ABS-CBN News Online, AFP bares Metro Manila schools linked to ‘Red October’, Oct. 3, 2018.

GMA News Online, AFP officials name schools where Reds allegedly recruit students for ouster plot, Oct. 3, 2018., Universities deny alleged ‘Red October’ involvement, Oct. 3, 2018.

ABS-CBN News Online, Universities reject military allegations linking them to ‘Red October’, Oct. 4, 2018.

GMA News Online, More schools deny AFP’s accusation of CPP recruitment, Oct. 4, 2018., AFP ‘red-tagged’ schools using unverified information, Oct. 4, 2018.

News5, NOT VERIFIED | AFP: List of schools linked to Red October plot ‘under validation’, Oct. 4, 2018., AFP admits list of schools linked to Red October not yet fully verified, Oct. 4, 2018.

Commission on Human Rights official Facebook page, ON THE LIST OF UNIVERSITIES ALLEGEDLY LINKED TO “RED OCTOBER”, Oct. 4, 2018.

Senate of the Philippines, Committee of Finance (Subcommittee “E”) (Oct. 2, 2018), Oct. 2, 2018.

Supreme Court, G.R. No. 220028 J. Leonen Dissenting Opinion, Nov. 10, 2015.

IPON, Red-Baiting: Civil Society under general suspicion, Nov. 2, 2011.

IPON, Red-Baiting in the Philippines, December 2012.

History, Red Scare, June 1, 2010.

International Business Times, Why is The Color Red Associated With Communism?, June 30 , 2011.

The Times of India, Why are Communists called ‘reds’?, Feb. 11, 2007.

Official Gazette, Proclamation 374, s. 2017.

GMA News Online, DOJ asks Manila court to declare CPP-NPA as terror group, Feb. 21, 2018., Declare CPP-NPA as terrorist group, gov’t asks court, Feb. 21, 2018., DOJ formally seeks court declaration of CPP-NPA as terrorists, Feb. 21, 2018.

Senate of the Philippines, RA 9372 (Human Security Act of 2007).

United Nations, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, April 16, 2008.

BISIG, FAQs on the Human Security Act, July 15, 2007.

The New York Times, UN expert urges Philippines to solve political killings, Feb. 21, 2007.

(Guided by the code of principles of the International
Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims,
flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks
them with factual evidence. Find out more
about this initiative
and our methodology.)