THE Baguio City government has unanimously adopted and inked a resolution explicitly codifying the local city’s commitment to inclusivity and fighting discrimination within its borders.
Signed on December 6, Resolution No. 763-2023 holds the city government into fostering an environment and society that removes discrimination based on factors such as sex, gender, age, race, political belief, or religion, and promises that residents of Baguio City will have full access to freedom of expression, safe space, and development.
The resolution establishes a commitment to providing avenues for exercising democracy and civil liberty, both by providing physical venues for socio-political expression such as but not limited to Malcolm Square being declared as a “People’s Park,” which is already regularly used for protest action and demonstration, but also to providing protections that will ensure socio-political activity to thrive in the city.
“The City Government of Baguio will forever continue to strive to realize a City that is safe and enjoyed by all,” the resolution adds, further committing the city to its pledge to act towards protection, safety, and the constant review of policy to ensure said protections indefinitely.
The resolution is the latest of the steps taken by Baguio officials to keep their commitment to make the city “safe for activists.”
With the politically-charged climate of the previous decades, escalating during the previous presidency, Baguio City has continued committing to the safety of activism and freedom of speech.
Five years ago, the council opposed via resolution a Department of Justice (DOJ) petition to label the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist organizations when the DOJ petition included seven Baguio residents.
A similar event happened earlier this year when the council wrote to urge the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to drop the names of four Cordilleran activists from the terrorist designation under ATC Resolution No. 41. Said issue is currently undergoing legal challenge and is to be fought in the court of law after the ATC refused to act on said resolutions and the appeals of rights groups, lawyers, and the accused.
The council also blocked a request from the local anti-communist Task Group Baguio (TGB) for organizational documents and financial data of 67 accredited non-government organizations in the city, with human rights groups and advocates citing the potential for the data to be misused in the name of stopping communist insurgencies.
Several of its members are also pushing for the passage of an ordinance protecting human rights defenders. If passed, the ordinance would be the second of its kind in the country, after Isabela passed a similar ordinance in 2022.
But unlike the Isabela ordinance, the proposed Baguio ordinance has penal provisions and defines political vilification and red tagging, recognizing that these are comparable to acts considered as human rights violations and abuse.
As for the mayor, Benjamin Magalong personally ordered in 2022 the removal and prohibition of red-tagging posters and materials targeted against student leaders, civil organizations, and local personalities, repeatedly stressing in public communications that activism as a right is protected in Baguio City.
In his March 2022 dialogue with civil society organizations, Magalong ordered the removal and prohibition of posters red-tagging student leaders, organizations, and local personalities in the city after anti-terror “lectures” were found using material declaring civil groups and students as members of the terrorist element, an action that led to a former anti-communist official going on air to accuse Magalong of treason, accusations of which only stopped when Magalong threatened legal action against the unfounded claims.
Both the council and Magalong would again face the same concern after TGB in August of this year were reported by concerned citizens to be using material that red-tagged social and activist groups operating in the city as fronts for the communist insurgency, confronting the group and reiterating the local government’s stance that Baguio is safe for freedom of expression and that activism is not a crime and within the rights of the Philippine citizen.
While the TGB did cease using said material, the group continues to exist and operate in Baguio, claiming to fight “deceptive recruitment” going on in the youth sector.