WE WON’T BACK DOWN | Despite intensified threats, youth groups to continue activism

By SHERWIN DE VERA
www.nordis.net

BAGUIO CITY — Saturday morning, April 6, Khim Abalos started the morning with a smile and greetings of peace as the emcee for the Baguio People’s Forum at the Episcopal Diocese North Central Philippines Center.

But what could have been a lively facilitation by him was cut short, as he was called to the Cordilleran Youth Center (CYC) for an emergency consultation to address another alarming incident that involves him.

On the same morning, his fellow members of Kabataan Party-list found a note bearing his name at the CYC doorstep which also serves as Kabataan Partylist Cordillera Headquarters in Baguio.

Written on the note was a question and a warning: “Lahat kayo lider studyante o lider ng mga terorista? Magingat na kayo (All of you are student leaders or leaders of terrorists? You should take care).”

Also named in the note are his fellow students from the University of the Philippines Baguio Ned Tuguinay and Maria Cleo Cuya. All of them are members of the Alliance of Concerned Students, a political party-alliance in the school, and active campaigners of Kabataan Party-list.

Tuguinay served as the University Student Council chairperson during the Academic Year 2017-2018 while Cuya is the current spokesperson of the College of Arts and Communications in the student body.

“We are not backing down”

In a text message, Abalos said that he fears for his safety.

“They fear for me because they are aware of what the government do to activists,” he said, referring to his family and friends.

But, according to him, they will not let their fear of attacks and violence silence them.

“While these terrifying attacks of threat and terrorist-tagging really affects our daily function, these will never put us down. These threats fortify our reason to courageously fight back. We are not backing out,” the student leader declared.

Since this January, Abalos has been receiving death threats via text messages. This has prompted ACS and the UPB Student Council to seek a dialogue with the Office of the Chancellor.

In January, Abalos received the following text message:

He again received threats via cellphone in February:

Threats to silence dissent

“This reeks desperation! This is one of the many attempts of the fascist administration and their cohorts to silence the ever-growing youth movement”, said Kabataan Partylist Cordillera spokesperson Christian Dave Ruz.

According to him, while the red-tagging of their organizations and harassment of members by state security forces are not new, there has been an observable rise and brazenness after the military revealed “Red October”.

Red October is an alleged plot of the Communist Party of the Philippines to destabilize the Duterte administration. The military linked student organizations and 10 universities in Metro Manila, including UP Diliman, of mobilizing for the execution of the CPP plan.

In October 2018, the Baguio City Police Office also red-tagged student and youth organizations in a social media post. On its social media page “BCPO Kasangga mo”, BCPO shared a meme tagging the Kabataan Partylists, Anakbayan and other progressive youth groups as terrorists and recruiters for the alleged “Red October” plot. The post called on parents to prohibit their children from joining the said youth groups.

Fighting back

Despite the intensified threats, red-tagging and vilification against progressive groups and activists, Ruz and Abalos said their organization and the youth movement are not deterred, and are finding ways to fight back.

They cited the BCPO post which prompted their organizations to file complaints before the Baguio City Council and the Commission on Human Rights. Acting on the matter, the city council called for an inquiry and dialogue.

Unable to provide evidence on their accusations and justified reason to post the meme, BCPO was forced to apologized to the council and the representatives of the youth organizations.

ACS-UPB also seek a dialogue with the Office of the Chancellor on the threats against Abalos. The school administration committed support to the beleaguered student leader and offered to provide sanctuary and counselling assistance.

According to Ruz, youth organizations, together with law students in different universities in the city, are currently lobbying for the passage of an ordinance against red-tagging to prevent another “irresponsible, malicious and dangerous action like the one committed by BCPO.”

“We call on all democracy-loving individuals and organizations to join us, and express our highest condemnation against the intensifying attacks on our rights,” he added. # nordis.net

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