Teacher vocal about NPA youth recruitment hit by FB ‘purge’

Gemma Labsan was among the more than 155 Facebook users whose accounts were recently suspended by social media giant Facebook.

She started using Facebook in 2009 mainly to connect with relatives and her husband, who is a seafarer.

Hands Off Our Children founder Gemma Labsan

Amid the pandemic, Labsan shared that she has been preparing learning modules and engaging her senior high school students as part of her job to teach Accountancy, Business, and Management Strand (ABM) in a public school in Quezon City.

She said she has also been busy coordinating with her colleagues at work and addressing concerns of parents of her students regarding the new mode of learning.

“Facebook Messenger is the easiest tool of communication that I share with my students, their parents, and the other teachers in my school. It is important for me as a teacher. I rely on it since everyone I need to connect with is also using it,” she told the Philippine News Agency in an interview on Thursday.

On September 22, Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said they have decided to remove some 155 accounts, 11 pages, nine groups, and six Instagram accounts for violating the company’s policy “against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.”

“This activity originated in China and focused primarily on the Philippines and Southeast Asia more broadly, and also on the United States,” Gleicher added.

The Facebook official said they have found two separate networks violating the policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB).

One of these networks originated in China and the other one, in the Philippines.

“In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing, and that was the basis for our action,” Gleicher explained.

“When we investigate and remove these operations, we focus on behavior rather than content, no matter who’s behind them, what they post, or whether they’re foreign or domestic,” he added.

Labsan, on the other hand, said with her 11 years on Facebook, she was only met with this kind of “wrongful accusation” when she started being vocal against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

Labsan first appeared in the public eye in a Senate hearing in 2019 on issues about missing minors who have been allegedly recruited by organizations with links to the communist terrorist movement.

Of the five sets of parents who appealed for the government’s help in the Senate, Labsan was the only one whose child is in her custody, while the rest of the children have reportedly become “fully-fledged” in the movement and refused to contact their families.

In the hearing, she was in tears showing copies of photos where her child went with a teacher and other students during street rallies while President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year.

She shared that she made it her mission to start an information drive for parents of incoming college students and those whose children have become “radicalized by the communist ideology”.

In the same year, Labsan founded “Hands Off Our Children” along with other parents whose kids were also reportedly taken by militant groups supportive of the ideologies espoused by the CPP-NPA.

Hands Off Our Children, she said, has expressed support to the plight of a fellow member, Relissa Lucena, who filed a writ of amparo and habeas corpus petition before the Supreme court in May against Anakbayan leaders, saying her daughter was “indoctrinated” and recruited by the militant group when she was still a minor, which led to her disappearance.

Labsan’s Hands Off Our Children group, along with the League of Parents of the Philippines and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, cascade information on Facebook about Lucena’s petition against Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago and members and recruiters of Anakbayan.

Hindi po fake ang Hands Off Our Children Page at mas lalo hindi fake na mga magulang, kami ay mga ordinaryong pamilya na naglakas ng loob ilantad at ibahagi ang aming totoong karanasan sa mga anak namin na ni-recruit ng Kabataan (Hands Off Our Children Page is not fake and we are most definitely not fake parents. We are ordinary Filipino families who risk our safety just to expose what the Kabataan group has done to our family),” she said.

The Facebook accounts of those supporting their causes, Anabelle Sabado, Luisa Espina, and her daughter, were also among those included in the so-called “purge”.

Mga admin din po sila ng page namin (They are administrators in our page),” she said. (PNA)

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