By Kier James Hernandez and Roland Andam Jr.

PHOTO: Screengrab from Silliman University (Facebook)

Masked with his call to stop red-tagging, Silliman University's first summa cum laude after 11 years shouted “Laban kabataan, pag-asa ng bayan” on stage during their commencement ceremony, June 13.

In an exclusive interview with Explained PH, Jose Paolo Echavez, the university's highest academic awardee, expounded on his call to end red-tagging. 

As per Echavez, red-tagging roots from how the country's political landscape “considers any form of dissent and critique of the government” as leaning towards the “leftist ideology.”

Echavez believes that this should not be the case because “dissent is a natural law,” therefore the State should recognize them. 

He asserted that when a democratic government demonizes the act of dissent, democracy loses its essence. 

“Dissent is basically the existence or cultivating of an opinion that varies from the subject. A democracy, albeit commonly regarded as a majority-ruling style of governance, is, in its core principles, a government for the people,” he underscored. 

"The complexity and the uniqueness of each human person makes dissent a natural law. Therefore, a democratic government recognizes this natural law and therefore provides a system to effectively organize all these varying opinions. Any state that demonizes dissent is not democratic," Echavez added. 

The agriculture graduate furthered that red-tagging has led to the commission of abuse as it is done without any valid basis to justify illegal arrest and killings, among others.

He stressed that the normalization of red-tagging will forward a “chained state of living” where fear is invoked and lives are endangered.

Moreover, because of fear of possible warrantless arrest from authorities, Echavez said that he refrains from doing any dissent acts in person and usually do them online. 

The summa cum laude awardee also shared that his stances on certain social issues and his posts online have been misinterpreted, resulting in him being indirectly red-tagged as well. 

"My comments, stances, and other posts online have been misinterpreted as subversive and leaning towards extreme communist ideology. For example, I post a critical opinion and they mention ‘Don't join the NPA’ or something similar," he said.

Despite this, Echavez hopes to have empowered people through amplifying their voices, especially those who were victimized by the continuous red-tagging by State forces.

Edited by Kyla Balatbat