Paramilitary group ‘red-tag’ a bishop in the Philippines, denouncing her as a secret communist

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The Iglesia Filipino Independiente (IFI)’s bishop of Batac along with three clergymen have been “red-tagged” as suspected communist sympathizers – a move that may precipitate their murder by para-military groups.

The Rappler reported that church workers on 3 June 2022 found posters and leaflets bearing the names and photos of the Rt. Rev. Emelyn Gasco-Dacuycuy, Bishop of Batac and three clergymen. The posters were  scattered in front of the cathedral in Laoag City and a church in Banna, Ilocos Norte province in the northwestern corner of the island of Luzon. 

The leaflets warned “Mag-ingat sa taong ito. NPA recruiter!” (Beware, this person is an NPA recruiter!) the Rappler reported. A group calling itself Tagapagtanggol ng Bayan Laban sa Terorismo claimed responsibility.

Called “red-tagging” in the Philippines, the move by the government, military or paramilitary groups to label their opponents as secret communists has been denounced by human rights groups. In 2019 Amnesty International called on the “Philippine authorities to cease from ‘red-tagging’ legitimate organizations, or branding them as “communist fronts” which, according to these organizations, have led to increased harassment and attacks by unknown individuals against them. Peaceful activists should not be targeted based on their political views. The authorities must also carry out a prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the killings, and bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the killings. They must take proactive steps to ensure, protect, and promote the human rights of human rights defenders and activists in the country, and guarantee the right to an effective remedy and access to justice to victims and their families.”

Bishop Gasco-Dacuycuy, the IFI’s first woman bishop released a statement on Facebook denying she was a communist and a recruiter for its armed wing, the NPA. “On behalf of my church and the Diocese, we are very ready to call a dialogue with the government agencies, especially the military officials assigned in our area.,” the bishop said. 

“We are not NPA recruiters! We are bishops and priests working and praying for the abundance of life,” Gasco-Dacuycuy added. 

 She told reporters she believed she and her colleagues were red-tagged after she invited an opposition politician to speak to the IFI youth group about the recent presidential elections. That “might have sparked the ire of the state forces,” she observed. 

In 2001 the bishop and her husband, a fellow IFI priest, were jailed on suspicion of complicity in the murder of 13 peasant leaders and development workers. The court dismissed the case against them. Bishop Gasco-Dacuycuy served as the secretary-general of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA) before accepting a parish assignment in 2003. She has continued her human rights work while tending to her clerical duties.