Southeast Asian MPs alarmed by the use of disinformation ahead of Philippine elections


Southeast Asian MPs alarmed by the use of disinformation ahead of Philippine elections

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia are alarmed by the dangerous use of offline and online disinformation during the campaign for the national and local elections on 9 May in the Philippines. Smear campaigns are a grave threat to democracy and the safety and security of candidates, and all concerned authorities must ensure a free, fair, and peaceful electoral process, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said.

The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has a history of attempting to silence its critics by attacking them with unfounded accusations of having links with the Communist insurgency of the New People’s Army; or of being involved in the trafficking of illicit narcotics. These tactics, known in the Philippines as ‘red-tagging’ and ‘narco-tagging’ have in some occasions resulted in the individual identified being killed.

Such attacks against candidates who have experienced public ‘red-tagging’ or ‘narco-tagging’ are a form of intimidation that should not take place in a democracy. Not only will they have a significant impact on the fairness of the elections,  they also pose a serious threat to the safety and security of candidates,” said Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament from Malaysia, and APHR Chairperson.

The most egregious example of ‘narco-tagging’ is the arbitrary arrest and unjust detention of Leila De Lima, a Philippine Senator and APHR member who has been unfairly jailed for five years after attempting to hold authorities accountable for the reported crimes committed during the war on drugs. 

More recently, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP or Alliance for Change), a political party founded by Sara Duterte who is currently running for the Vice-Presidency, accused its rival Walden Bello of being a ‘narco-politician’. In a statement, HNP ‘narco-tagged’ Mr Bello, a former Philippine Member of Parliament and Board Member of APHR who is running for Vice-President under the Laban ng Masa (Fight of the Masses) political party. The accusation came after he called out Sara Duterte’s absence in the electoral debates and demanded answers on the issue of illegal drug trade in Davao City, where she currently serves as Mayor.

“The smear campaigns against candidates should stop immediately. It is incumbent on all parties concerned, including the relevant authorities and candidates, to ensure a peaceful environment during all the stages in the electoral process, one that is free from fear, intimidation, harassment, and violence, as an important ingredient to conduct a genuinely democratic process,” Santiago said.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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