Red-tagged by Sara Duterte: A Davao teacher’s story

Jul. 03, 2023

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Vice President Sara Duterte is on a warpath against the public school teachers’ union, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and its affiliated party-list organization. 

As concurrent secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), she has called them “terrorists” and “communist-inspired” at the first instance they criticized her administration’s supposed failure to provide what teachers truly needed.

This is giving Pilar Barredo a PTSD of sorts. Barredo is from Davao City, and has been teaching at the Calinan National High School for 36 years. As secretary general of ACT’s Davao City chapter, she remembers almost the same circumstances happening when Duterte was mayor, prior to becoming a national figure. 

ACT publicly pointed out what was missing in the local government’s benefits for public school teachers, so the lady mayor got pissed and started red-tagging them. Interestingly, after this, Barredo found her photograph in a “wanted terrorist” poster that circulated but which nobody took responsibility for. 

Her personal life and advocacy work have been changed forever. 

This is her story.

Barred from city hall

On October 1, 2018, Barredo and two other officers of ACT Davao were expecting a meeting with Mayor Sara Duterte after the flag ceremony at city hall. They had been invited by Councilor PiIar Braga, a former teacher and civic leader who had proposed an ordinance to grant subsidies to teachers from the city’s general funds.

ACT Davao had appealed to the city government to include in its general fund a P2,000 monthly cash subsidy and P2,500 quarterly rice allowance for each of the 11,959 teachers and non-teaching personnel employed by the DepEd in the city.

Military and police personnel, however, barred them from entering the plaza.

“I saw policemen carrying poster-sized photos of me and other chapter officers, like Elenito Escalante, Willy Lacatan, and Rey Pardillo…. They blocked us from entering the flag ceremony despite the invitation of Councilor Pilar Braga,” Barredo told Davao Today in a recent interview.

The ACT officers nevertheless managed to get an audience with Mayor Duterte, who made a counter-proposal, saying the amount they were requesting was “too high” for the city government’s budget. 

Unsatisfied, the teachers posted on social media to call for the original amount they came to ask for.

Calibrated campaign vs ‘liars, terrorists’

A few days later – on October 5, which happened to be World Teachers’ Day – Mayor Duterte responded through an Instagram post. She called ACT members “liars, terrorists and sympathizers of terrorist groups.” (READ: Sara Duterte steps up drive vs leftist party-list groups)

She was irked by the group’s Facebook post, and asserted that the city government had provided allowances through Christmas gift checks worth P2,000, released every December since 2016.

“If I can only expel you outside of Davao City,” Duterte said.

After the mayor’s tirade, the proposed city legislation to provide monthly subsidies to teachers was never heard of again.

Barredo was shocked that they were red-tagged, and by how Duterte’s post quickly got support in the comments. 

“Sara Duterte does not even know me. She might be randomly pinpointing people. Why would they red-tag a full-time teacher like me?” Barredo asked.

Around that time, Sara Duterte was gaining national attention for her social media posts that lambasted critics of her father, then-president Rodrigo Duterte. She also just gained political clout for helping oust House Speaker and former Duterte ally Pantaleon Alvarez.  

Her targeting of ACT seemed to be calibrated alongside the red-tagging campaign of the military against leftist party-list organizations.  

A few weeks after blasting the local chapter of ACT, the mayor red-tagged ACT Representative Antonio Tinio, who was in Davao City to support the Lumad students who were displaced by military operations. Sara’s father, the president, had just told the military to bomb Lumad schools.

Profiling of ACT members

In 2018, ACT members could no longer avail themselves of a free pass from DepEd when they had to attend to union responsibilities, Barredo said.

“They gave us more school tasks, and they even circulated an online survey intended to profile our members,” she added.

ACT Representative France Castro said Mayor Duterte may have instructed Regional Director 11 Allan Farnazo not to talk to the ACT union about their CNA.

“The regional office has been asking for the list of all ACT members in the region, which is a violation of privacy and of the right to membership in any organization, resulting in a deadlocked status,” Castro said.

Barredo recalled visiting a school in the Island Garden City of Samal, where members manifested their withdrawal from ACT. The members were questioned by DepEd officials about their involvement with the organization and their connections with Tinio.

Barredo was frustrated when teachers no longer signed up in their petition for salary increase. They feared getting associated with ACT.

In the 2019 midterm elections, ACT members reported seeing tarpaulins in public centers in Davao City, branding their organization and other party-list groups belonging to the Makabayan bloc as “protector ng (of) CPP-NPA-NDF terrorists” and “kalaban sa pag-asenso ng bayan, bayaran” (enemies of the nation’s progress, paid hacks). 

‘Wanted’ posters, Facebook red-tagging

The attacks on ACT took on another level during the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, posters were seen in major thoroughfares in Davao City, red-tagging activist leaders in time for the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

In Barangay Ma-a, Barredo saw her photo along with the photos of local activists in a poster, which tagged them as “Wanted” and “NPA recruiters.”

Barredo and other ACT leaders had the incident recorded in a police blotter. When they asked to check the city’s CCTV, they didn’t find any footage of the postering activity.

The latest incident, on October 17, 2022, involved a Facebook group named Kalumuran, which had been red-tagging Mindanao activists. This time, they labeled Barredo as “Wanted: Dead or Alive” for organizing “communist rebels.”

ACT-Southern Mindanao regional chairperson Elenito Escalante said the red-tagging had impacted the organization, as one-fourth of its membership either became inactive or quit.

“Some members withdrew their membership. Others did not want to raise their concerns and remained silent. They did not want their involvement to get exposed,” he said.

Losing family and friends

Barredo, who teaches technology and livelihood education subjects, remembered how her co-teachers used to come to her for help. This interaction disappeared when the attacks by local authorities started.

“Recalling this really hurts me. In 2019, co-teachers in Calinan National High School were spreading hearsay that they had been tailed and were at risk because of me. They also called me NPA. My co-teachers used to listen and believe in what I had to say, but I can no longer feel the support,” she said.

Barredo said the attacks triggered anxiety and anger in her family, leading to her husband’s death from cardiac arrest in 2021 due to all the stress.

Until now, she feels very anxious, experiencing mental and physical distress.

Her fellow teacher and childhood friend, Fe Daplin, jokingly asked Davao Today in an interview, “Should I really talk? I might be red-tagged next.”

After the mayor’s red-tagging in 2018, she wondered why her friend was labeled as a terrorist when all she saw Barredo doing was to work for the welfare of public school teachers. Daplin described Barredo as a person devoted to teaching, kind, helpful, and generous.

Barredo said she saw in her work with ACT that public school teachers could have their voices and concerns heard when they are organized. 

“One issue that we faced was the issue of salaries or related to the economic part. I do not find the salary of Teacher 1 justifiable when state forces have been given a double increase. There is also the appointment of non-qualified heads. We are also burdened with the poverty faced by our students who go to school hungry and being asked for school contributions. After seeing these, I felt the need to do something and couldn’t stand seeing my colleagues turn speechless over the issues affecting them,” she said.

The reach of Sara’s red-tagging

Duterte’s red-tagging of ACT continues now that she’s vice president of the country and secretary of education. (READ: Sara Duterte brings red-tagging to DepEd

Last March 29, the Facebook accounts “DepEd Philippines” and “Vice President Sara Duterte” carried her statement calling ACT members “sympathizers and supporters of the NPA (New People’s Army), the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.” 

The spread of the message was instantaneous; the reach, wide. DepEd Philippines has 5.3 million followers, while Duterte’s page has 2.1 million followers. At the time research was done for this story, DepEd’s post had generated 661 comments, 849 shares, and 6,000 reactions. Duterte’s post had 991 comments and 321 shares. 

The posts elicited hateful comments. Many of those who responded commended Duterte’s statement as an act of bravery and a supposed brand and legacy of the Duterte family. A significant number of commenters wanted to abolish ACT after no less than the Vice President “exposed” them.

Vloggers like Coach Jarret, Ako si Kabibig,, and the broadcast station of United States-indicted Apollo Quiboloy, SMNI, fueled the narrative. 

In the next two weeks after Duterte’s statement, SMNI and vloggers known to be allied with the Dutertes had the same messaging – that ACT’s members were “terrorists,” and that Sara Duterte was headstrong, having successfully faced them. 

DepEd chief: Talking, but not listening

That Duterte spews vitriol towards ACT and the teachers’ causes they are pushing for is ironic. She was, after all, raised by her paternal grandmother Soledad, a public school teacher.

ACT Representative France Castro said she didn’t know why their group had been constantly attacked by the Vice President.

“I am not privy to the reason why she continues to red-tag us,” Castro said. “ACT has been very vocal in its position against anti-teachers and anti-education policies. For a long time, we have raised our issues and presented our alternatives. As we all know, the Dutertes cannot stand dissent.”

Castro said their office had sent letters to the Vice President, requesting a dialogue to raise these matters, but they had not received any response.

This was after Duterte criticized ACT’s support for the jeepney drivers’ strike, saying that doing so was “not really serving the interest of students and teachers.”

Duterte brushed off ACT’s demand for a salary increase and additional classrooms, saying these were meant to divert public attention from the alleged NPA attack in Masbate, which had affected students in the area. 

Escalante said Duterte should realize that the demands they raised with her when she was mayor are the same demands she faces everywhere: the need for higher salary and allowances, and the shortages in classrooms, teachers, and school materials.  

ACT national chairperson Vlademir Queta corrected the Vice President’s claim that a budget increase for the education department was impossible.

“It is a baseless claim that constructing 50,000 classrooms per year is impossible, as the agency was able to build 100,936 classrooms for three years from 2014 to 2016,” he said. 

“From 2014 to 2018, the budget allocations for classroom construction ranged from P39 billion to P109 billion yearly. It has been done, and it can be done, if only the current administration were sincere in addressing the classroom crisis,” Queta said.

Former social welfare undersecretary Mae Fe Templa said that Duterte had abused and misused her role as Deped secretary and vice president when she labeled individuals and organizations terrorists.

“Red-tagging will result in people getting passive, settling for short-term arrangements and no longer articulate demands against poverty, inflation and the need for structural change,” Professor Templa said.

When the attacks began in 2018, the organization said: “We may be called ‘terror’ by our students because we are dedicated to discipline and teaching the young ones even if we are overworked and underpaid. Now, it is sad that we are terrorized by this propaganda that seems well-funded, judging from the quality of tarpaulins and how workers were deployed to post the ‘wanted’ posters.”

That dedication to disciplining and teaching young students, and looking out for the welfare of teachers, is something that Barredo has not lost despite the hardships and harassment from state actors.

“I will continue to share my time, knowledge, and effort in serving the teachers,” Barredo said. “Our demands are legitimate, and the government should recognize our significant role in making this country a much better place.” (originally posted on

Lucelle Bonzo of Davao Today is an Aries Rufo Journalism Fellow at Rappler.

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