In Ilocos, red-tagging victims battle emotional toll

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — What used to be a bustling campaign office of progressive groups in Vigan City in Ilocos Sur, turned quiet just three days before the June 30 inauguration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. 

On June 27, Kabataan Party-list second nominee Angelica Galimba, with Makabayan Provincial Coordinator Niño Oconer and Anakbayan organizer Rabh Hubbard, left the Ilocos People’s Center to seek sanctuary. 

The three, along with leaders of farmers and workers, and Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) clergy, underwent intense red-tagging and surveillance in the last few weeks of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s government and the start of the Marcos administration.

“I fear for my life and those who surround me for we are being targeted and treated as enemy of the state for defending human rights and dignity,” Galimba said in a July 4 Facebook post that reported “heightened surveillance” by state agents starting June 25. 

In a social media interview with Rappler on Monday, July 11, Galimba said they are now in a secure place.  

The move became necessary as trauma piled up due to pamphlets and posters scattered around, and the even more brazen surveillance of their office, with men openly taking photos of her and companions.

“I always thought that I would get used to these things (red-tagging and harassment) but every time, the anxiety and other emotions add up,” she said. 

She admitted being afraid of stepping out, “even just to go to the store alone.”

“You never know what will happen,” Galimba said.

She can’t even go to church anymore.

“I am scared of encountering my church mate who was actually the one who first ‘invited’ me,” she told Rappler. 

This church member approached their pastor, who declined the request  because he would not say who else would be in that meeting, the youth leader added.

Galimba’s voice wavered as she listed down the effects, not just of red-tagging but of the other acts of physical harassment that accompany the verbal attacks.

“Mahirap actually talaga makatulog. Konting kaluskos lang ng mga bagay-bagay, especially mga sasakyan, iba na ang pintig ng puso ko,” she said. (It’s very hard to sleep. Every little sound, every rustle, the sounds of vehicles affects my heartbeat.) 

Threatened clergy

The young activist’s emotional turmoil is shared by IFI priest Randy Manicap.

Manicap was assigned as the parish priest of St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Laoag City just over a month ago. 

However, he has yet to visit and hold masses in the barangays under his ward since streamers and leaflets accusing him and several IFI clergy of being NPA supporters and recruiters started popping up in Ilocos Norte last month. 

“I can’t sleep, eat, and focus. Many times, I just find myself crying,” Manicap said in a separate interview on July 11.

“I am afraid not for myself but for my family and members of my church. The stress comes mainly from my concern about ‘what if the attack comes while I’m with church members or my family? They might get hurt or killed because of me,” he added. 

“I was really looking forward to holding masses in the barangays but I am afraid for the safety of those who would travel with me. The same way that I worry for the safety of my family,” he told Rappler in an interview.

In just under three weeks, the priest said, he lost around 11 pounds or almost five kilos.

Despite curbs on his movement, Manicap finds ways to do his duties.

“Red-tagging is not a joke,” said the priest. “But even with the threats, we must continue our work of spreading the faith and the truth, we push on with our advocacies,” Manicap added. 

Galimba also said threats would not deter her from continuing our work, although “they pose significant challenges”. 

Despite the relentless smear campaign by the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict against Kabataan Party-list, the group was able to secure a seat in the House of Representatives during the May 9 elections. 

Kabataan received 536,690 votes, with 14,459 coming from the Ilocos region, bastion of the Marcos family.

Deadly toll

Psychiatrist and Health Action for Human Rights vice chair Reggie Pamugas said psychological stress is common among victims of state repression. 

“Basically, any form of harassment from physical to psychological, including red tagging a person or an organization, has an impact on mental health that leads to physical and social malfunction,” he explained. 

“Usual effect ng harassment, red tagging or any forms of state repression can lead to fear, anxiety, panic attacks, trauma, mood disorders, or even death,” the doctor added. 

Psychosocial processing is an important stage for victims of red-tagging, said psychologist and United Church of Christ in the Philippines pastor Irma Balaba, who handles counseling services for human rights violations victims. 

“Many of the victims continue to perform their tasks despite the threats by suppressing their fear and concerns. Sessions like counseling allow the victims to pour out their emotions and relieve themselves,” she told Rappler in a mix of Tagalog and English. 

The pastor recalled that while counseling the victims, “many of them cried while sharing their experiences.” 

She said that aside from counseling, some are also taking psych medications. 

“However, this is not enough. In the process, we help them understand the political and social aspects of the issue. That this is part of our work, facing state repression as we do our ministry of helping the poor and the oppressed,” Balaba said. – Rappler.com