The national security adviser appointed by Philippine President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has urged an end to the dangerous and deadly practice of red-labeling or labeling government critics and activists as communists or terrorists.
Clarita Carlos, a retired political science professor, would become the first woman to hold the post of national security adviser (NSA) if confirmed, as expected, by July 1. It’s a powerful position that oversees the country’s security and defense approach and is usually reserved for senior military officials.
“To the extent of my tenure as NSA, I would like to stop red-tagging,” Carlos said in a recent TV interview after his appointment was announced, adding that it was a lazy practice and against -productive.
In the Philippines, red labeling is the practice of the military and police to stigmatize human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other members of civil society who have criticized the government. Some people who were marked in red were harassed and died.
The United Nations, expressing concern over the practice, said it “poses a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression”.
“It’s not productive”
Carlos, if approved, will chair the National Security Council and serve as vice-chairman of the Counterterrorism Council. She advocates for a human security approach to resolving the Philippines’ decades-long battle against a communist insurgency, the longest in Asia.
“Let’s stop red marking because it’s not productive. Let’s put our energies on the ground, tackling the inequalities, the lack of opportunities,” Carlos said. “If you prevent these people from becoming journalists…scientists, if you kill their future, they will have weapons.”
The plan Carlos has proposed, if she manages to implement it once in power, is a complete reversal of the policies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has seen a wave of red flags and the murder of activists totaling 318 people in 2021, according to a human rights group. .
In 2018, Duterte formed and invested money in funding the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to counter the insurgency. The task force has been widely criticized for harassing activists, government critics and journalists.
“The empirical evidence…shows that the military route never works, so we should stop it. We look stupid doing the same things that don’t work. We have to do what works,” Carlos said.
Human rights organizations have welcomed Carlos’ call for an end to red marking, but there are doubts she will have the final say on the matter.
“As a non-militarist-minded academic, we can give him the benefit of the doubt. We hope, however, that the red-tag traffickers will not outwit his sensible position in the end,” the lawyer said. Edre Olalia, President of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.
Silence from Marcos, so far
But Olalia, whose organization has worked with people who have been identified, imprisoned or killed by government security forces, doubts Marcos will answer Carlos’ call.
“I especially doubt that [Marcos] supported the NTF-ELCAC during the campaign, and so far appears to be deafeningly silent on issues of red flagging and the anti-terrorism law. And he has to deal with a lot of sponsors and red-tagging practitioners around him,” he said.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the rights group Karapatan (rights in Filipino), called on Carlos to advocate for the abolition of the controversial NTF-ELCAC.
“In addition to his notorious and dangerous red-labeling campaigns, he has directed and instigated several gross human rights violations…numerous arrests and raids of progressive leaders and organizers and false accusations against activists,” said Palabay at VOA.
But the challenge for Carlos, Palabay said, is standing firm and heeding calls to end NTF-ELCAC and red-tagging “within the overall framework of Marcos Jr. and military policies.”
Similarly, Human Rights Watch called on Carlos to follow through on his statement to end red marking.
“What remains uncertain is whether her new boss and the Philippine Armed Forces will allow her to do this once she takes office,” said HRW Philippines researcher Carlos Conde.