BAGUIO CITY — Attacks targeting land rights advocates in Cagayan Valley aims not only to silence dissenters but also, to make the people feel powerless against the government. This view, according to Karapatan Cagayan Valley, best describe the spate of red-tagging and recent abduction committed by suspected state armed forces.

On February 12, Punganay, the indigenous peoples’ organization in the region, reported that members of the 17th Infantry Battalion abducted Fransing Solancho. The incident happened in Sitio Lagum, Barangay Lipatan, Sto. Niño, Cagayan, on the early morning of February 10.

Earlier, suspected state agents also littered leaflets along the roads going to the San Pablo Cemetery in Isabela province. The incident coincided with the commemoration of the first death anniversary of slain National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Randy Malayao on January 30. The materials vilified the slain peace consultant and progressive organizations.

A few days before, on January 28, a wave of red-tagging incidents targeting environmental advocates in Cagayan Valley, also happened.

People discovered unsigned posters made of from sacks along the roads of Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya, accusing the group of being a communist front. Also included were farmers’ organizations Timpuyog iti Mannalon ti Quirino (TIMIQ), Danggayan dagiti Mannalon ti Isabela (DAGAMI) and Kagimungan Cagayan.

“Kaninong interes naglilingkod ang red-tagging sa mga maka-kalikasan, makabayan, at progresibong organisasyon?” asked Fr. Vicente Tijam, chairperson of ANVIK.

The priest said that from the start, they have been transparent about their stand and advocacy against large-scale and destructive mining.

“Ito ang mga prinsipyong ibinabandila ng ANVIK at mga samahang magsasaka mulat sapul nang ito’y maitatag,” he added.

According to him, groups who are hiding behind fake organizations and maliciously spread lies about ANVIK and its allies are the real terrorist. He said that red-tagging is part of the systematic step to stifle democratic exercise of dissent and criticism.

“Nakakabahala ang sistematikong hakbang na ito dahil pinapakitid ang demokratikong espasyo na nakalaan sa mga mamamayan upang igiit at ipagtanggol ang kanilang karapatan,” Tijam noted.

Human rights groups in the country and abroad have denounced red-tagging. According to them, labeling environmental and human rights defenders as communist sympathizers or rebels exposes them to violent attacks by the state. Experts like United Nations Rapporteur Philip Alston and international groups like Amnesty International have established that state forces use this pattern against perceived enemies of the government.

The perpetrators did not spare the church, naming priests active on social issues as “komunistang pari.

Fr. Manny Catral of St. Peter Thelmo Parish in Aparri, Cagayan, was among those named in the posters. The cleric is active in the campaign against blacksand mining.

The posters, according to his Facebook post, littered the road from Baybayog to Baggao Road.

“In all honesty, I do not know the intent and purpose of those who are labeling or identifying priests as communists. What message are they trying to convey? Are we to cower in fear and trembling because we are branded as communists? Should we stop helping those in need? Are we to remain silent in the face of abuse of power and developmental aggression? Are our voices against the destruction of the environment and the plight of the suffering poor considered a threat to authorities?” he said.

Catral revealed that the incident is the second time that disinformation materials linked him with the armed revolutionary movement.

Bayan Cagayan Valley said the government is hell-bent on conditioning the mind of the public that those critical to the government are enemies of the people. However, the group said that this is where the government’s militarist logic fails.

“By associating groups advocating land rights and environmental protection with the armed revolutionary movement, the police and military are only implying that the rebels favor environmental protection and land reform. This logic would also mean that the rebels are working for the people’s welfare,” the group said.

The group noted that the organizations tagged by the government as communist fronts in Cagayan Valley like ANVIK and Dagami “have sterling records of advancing the people’s rights.”

“Their (ANVIK) relentless the campaign despite threats and intimidations paralyzed and forced the stoppage of OceanaGold’s operation. Meanwhile, these farmers’ groups also led dialogues that granted farmers respite from paying their loans from local traders during calamities and disasters,” Bayan-CV underscored. # nordis.net

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