The number of violations and open hostility to some trade unions have increased under the Duterte administration. The ‘war on drugs’, responsible for a reported 27,000 extra-judicial killings, have given the military, police and others with vested interests the license to conduct executions with impunity. The government’s failure to reach a peace agreement with communist groups has heightened the attack against any groups considered to be leftist or a critique of the government. “Red tagging” of groups and individuals and alleged lists of targeted activists and organisations, are increasing threats to trade unionists and making it easier for hostile employers to undermine and threaten unions.
Around twelve noon of September 12, 2019, Ophelia Tabacon, member of this year's Svensson award winner France Castros's ACT teachers union, was about to have lunch at a cafeteria outside of Camaman-an Elementary School in Cagayan de Oro City when she saw flyers posted with her photographs along with other human rights advocates in the region posted in a wall. Upon closer look, Ophelia discovered that the flyers were black propaganda materials implicating her as a “maestra komunista (teacher communist)”. The flyers also state that Ophelia is exploiting minors and molding them to become communists.
The flyers implicate Ophelia of being a communist for her mere association with human rights advocates and defenders. The flyers also included state that Ophelia’s son, “Sigfyl Tabacon” is a “lider sa teroristang NPA (leader of the terrorist NPA)” and “imong umagad nga si Kristin Lim (and your daughter-in-law Kristin Lim)”.
The same propaganda materials were given to Ophelia disguised as a message from ACT Representative France Castro in a Regional Leadership Training Seminar organized by ACT Teachers Partylist around 1:00pm of the same day in a hotel this city along with a note equivalent to a death threat from a certain group, Anti-Communist Terrorist Vigilante (ACTIV).
Some of the personalities included in the flyers were charged with trumped-up cases of multiple murder, frustrated murder, and other crimes linked to activities of the New People’s Army. Ophelia Tabacon also faces trumped-up charges of arson, kidnapping, and robbery for her alleged involvement in the NPA Sibagat raid. However, Ophelia Tabacon has never been to Sibagat nor has she participated in such activities.
Ophelia Tabacon, her family, and all the names in the flyer are in grave danger due to the irresponsible, cowardly, and malicious red-tagging of the perpetrators. Accusing Ophelia of being an NPA combatant puts her at risk of extrajudicial killings and other forms of violations on her right to life and liberty. Ophelia and her organization has consistently advanced teachers’ rights and welfare with the help of government agencies. Ophelia also sits in the Department of Education grievance desk to cater to issues of teachers and public school personnel.
Democratic space in the Philippines is shrinking in an attempt to silence critics and agents of change by cultivating a culture of fear. These incidents are happening not only in this city but systematically in the entire country. There is no denying that such acts are lies perpetrated by the state desperate to malign the teachers’ movement for meaningful change and reforms. There is no denying that the people behind the attacks against Ophelia Tabacon are willing to spew lies because from the start, they could not produce evidence to tarnish the persona of Ophelia and the tempered teachers’ movement through ACT Teachers Partylist and ACT Union.