Multi-awarded television journalist and documentarist Atom Araullo filed a civil suit claiming P2 million in damages against former anticommunist task force spokesperson Lorraine Badoy-Partosa and Jeffrey Celiz for allegedly Red-tagging him and jeopardizing his safety.
Araullo said Badoy-Partosa and Celiz, anchors of a program on SMNI television network, made “a series of unsubstantiated accusations and personal attacks” against him and his family, including his supposed links to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front (NDF).
His mother, Dr. Carol Pagaduan Araullo, a survivor of the struggle against dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and chair emeritus of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), filed a similar suit against the pair in July. (See “Fighting back: Activist Carol Araullo takes Red-taggers to court,” CoverStory.ph, July 20, 2023.)
“I initially chose to ignore their attacks owing to their apparent absurdity. But because I’ve seen how treacherous, persuasive, and harmful disinformation can be, especially when left unchecked, I have resolved to push back,” the 40-year-old GMA News journalist said.
Family’s safety, well-being
“I am doing this for the safety and well-being of my family, but I also hope it contributes in a modest way to protecting press freedom in general,” he said.
His lawyers have downloaded social media and video files of Badoy-Partosa and Celiz making outright claims against Araullo, who is also a national goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
One allegation is that Araullo is a CPP member “or at least an enabler,” according to one of his lawyers, Ayn Tolentino. The others are that Araullo is part of a “systematic, orchestrated attack against the government,” a “protector” of terrorists who uses his work as a journalist to “destroy and attack others” and make documentaries “faithful to the lies of the CPP-NPA-NDF.”
“Many times, he was called ‘spawn of an active CPP central committee leader,’” Tolentino said.
In the Philippines, Red-tagging, or labeling a person or a group as a member or supporter of the communist movement or a terrorist, has had grave, even fatal, consequences: Many individuals have been killed following such branding, since before the enactment of the antiterrorism law.
After serving as spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) during the Duterte administration, Badoy-Partosa joined SMNI as one of the anchors of the TV program “Laban Kasama ang Bayan.”
Her co-anchor, Celiz, claims to be a former member of the NPA’s National Operations Command and chair of Bayan in Panay. One of his fellow activists and classmate has expressed serious doubts about his claims.
In a “message and reply” to Araullo and his mother, Celiz said in Filipino on his Facebook page: “You first condemn, reject and fight the terrorism, arson, killings of civilians, ambushes against soldiers and police, the recruitment of the youth and also the widespread extortion by the CPP-NPA-NDF and their allied groups and individuals, that the CPP-NPA-NDF had committed against the people … before you act high and mighty in filing complaints of damages versus me and Dr. Lorraine Badoy.”
Celiz, who also uses the name Ka Eric Almendras, said Araullo’s “failure and refusal” to do so “is a clear indication of the validity of our assertions against you and your mother.”
Badoy-Partosa has yet to issue a separate statement as of this writing.
Threat of beheading
Atom Araullo said he was experiencing “emotional and psychological stress” from the “violent reactions” of the supporters of Badoy-Partosa and Celiz to their claims on social media, including one who threatened to behead him.
He said his ability to work and visit places had been restricted because of concern for his safety.
“You do not know what people who read their lies would do to you,” he said. “In going around various places to do stories, that is what I think about. There is no predicting how people will react to this kind of disinformation, especially since this is specifically designed to whip up hatred against myself and my family.”
Atom Araullo said there were parts of the country, mostly in the provinces, where he had been advised to be “extra careful” because certain individuals and groups believed that they must despise or confront him based on what they had read on social media against him.
“Red-tagging is just a specific form of intimidating members of the media whose reporting does not fit their particular agenda,” he said. “I think this is wrong and the instigators of this kind of disinformation must be held accountable.”
Chilling effect on journalists
Lawyer Rico Domingo, lead convenor of the Movement Against Disinformation, said Red-taggers “distort the function of journalists” and undermine democracy.
“Red-tagging actually stifles dissent and impinges on the freedom of the press and expression. This has a chilling effect on journalists,” he said.
Atom Araullo’s lead lawyer, Antonio La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Government, said Badoy-Partosa, Celiz and their ilk had been left alone over the years to do their work without much resistance, building their “sense of impunity” as a result.
He said the civil case in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court could reach the Supreme Court and take two to five years to resolve, and if they win, the damage award may be smaller than what they were seeking.
“But why is Atom filing this case if it takes that long?” La Vina said. “It is because accountability is important. Deterrence is important. It is important that Red-taggers know that there are consequences for what they are doing.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the online independent news organization Bulatlat, said they supported Atom Araullo.
The NUJP said the communist-terrorist label on Araullo and others “is used to justify arrests, trumped-up charges, surveillance and other forms of harassment against human rights defenders, including journalists.”
“Some of our colleagues have had to relocate, affecting the important work they do, and the communities they serve,” it said in a statement.
NUJP and some of its officers have been repeatedly Red-tagged and had recorded 19 incidents of Red-tagging under the Marcos administration.
Kristina Conti, Atom Araullo’s mother’s counsel and member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said Partosa and Celiz just recently received a summons from Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Rochelle Yvette Dakanay-Galano. They were given 30 days to respond to her separate P2.15 million civil suit.
“Red-tagging is a peculiar attack not only on reputation, but on physical safety as well,” the NUPL said. “This is why it is urgent to expose the peddled lies and confront the serious prejudices against activists, journalists, civic leaders, and all those who simply dare speak up.”