Activists protest against "red tagging" in the Philippines Activists protest against "red tagging" in the Philippines 

Missionaries in Philippines experience ongoing persecution

The Filipino government continues to arrest missionaries as part of a counter insurgency strategy known as “red tagging,” prompting condemnation of the practice and calls for peace by local Church leaders and the World Council of Churches.

By Chris Lawton

In recent days, the arrest of Aileen Manipol Villarosa, an NGO worker charged with financing terrorism, became the latest case of the well-established practice of “red tagging” in the Philippines.

The practice sees an individual accused of supporting communist organizations or labeled as a communist, with the goal of suppressing and persecuting those who may be critical of the government.

Villarosa, 41, is affiliated with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), a national interreligious organization of priests and laypeople who educate farmers, fishermen, and indigenous people about their rights.

RMP became the target of “red tagging” in August 2022 when 16 individuals linked to the organization were also charged with financing terrorism. The government alleged in that case that the RMP was transferring funds to the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

‘Red tagging’

Red tagging has affected individuals across a host of NGOs including missionary and Church-based organizations.

In November 2022, a priest of the “United Church of Christ in the Philippines,” Rev. Edwin Egar, was arrested along with more than 70 others under charges of supporting terror. They deny any such wrongdoing.

Similar charges have been made against individuals affiliated with the Catholic Church, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and the United Methodist Church in the Philippines.

“Red tagging” as a government counterinsurgency strategy began under former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has continued the efforts, including by increasing military presence in rural areas.

Legislation introduced in recent years has facilitated “red tagging.” The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 and Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 are two such laws, the former of which has been used to freeze the assets of the RMP.

Concern across various Churches

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), an ecumenical body committed to serving the most vulnerable in society, has spoken out against this increasing militarized counterinsurgency campaign.

“Those who defend land, often ancestral property of indigenous peoples, from the development of mines and dams, are confronted with the Filipino military who use their power to protect the interests of multinational companies,” they say. “Peasants who strive to ensure a just, decent and sustainable livelihood for their families and communities are often imprisoned or killed, while lawyers who try to represent them are attacked or arrested.”

The NCCP has called on the Filipino government to work towards peace in the nation by restarting peace talks with communist organizations.

 They have also taken their urgent concerns to the World Council of Churches (WCC), whose Central committee meeting took place last month in Geneva.

In a statement from the meeting, the WCC spoke out against “red tagging” and condemned the “grave human rights violations” allegedly being committed by the Filipino government.

The WCC committed to ongoing support of the NCCP in the promotion of peace and called for all WCC member churches to pray for all those affected by these injustices.

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04 July 2023, 12:16