MANILA, Philippines (ViaNews) – Several weeks ago, the Philippines once again broke international headlines when a ranking state prosecutor lodged a plea before a Manila trial court, asking for the terrorist tagging of two revolutionary organizations that have been waging a civil war in the country for the last fifty years.
Such bold move should not have surprised anyone. After all, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has already issued a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army as terrorist organizations late last year, following the breakdown of the peace talks with National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
Curiously, however, the terror tagging plea still surprised and earned the ire of many – most especially the human rights community – not just for the problematic terror tagging of the two organizations but the inclusion of hundreds of activists, women’s rights advocates, peace advocates, and at least four officials of the United Nations as the supposed leaders and members of the CPP and the NPA.
On its face, one could easily dismiss this if not shrug it off as just yet another attack against those who are collectively struggling for national liberation. However, despite its dubiety, the terror listing plea must be closely scrutinized.
What is it?
The petition lodged before the Manila trial court is a special civil proceeding as provided in the equally infamous law, the Human Security Act of 2009, a legislative measure copied as a response to the United States’ call for a global war on terror.
There are only two respondents to the terror tagging plea – the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. However, the plea also listed down, shotgun style, 657 names, which the Philippine government alleged are officers and members of the CPP and the NPA.
Only seven out of the 657 listed individuals have addresses. The rest is a mix of both legal and underground personalities. These include 36 peace consultants, 61 legal activists, 17 detained political prisoners, 83 women activists, four former and present United Nations officials, nine dead, and two victims of enforced disappearance. There are also individuals named twice.
In a statement, UN special rapporteur for indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz denounced her inclusion in the infamous terror list, adding that she will address “this baseless, malicious and irresponsible inclusion of my name even as I am consulting my lawyers on what legal courses of action to take to clear my name and even make accountable those who put my life and security at risk.”
However, the list also included nine members of a paramilitary group, who are among those implicated in the murder of a tribal leader in Mindanao.
The most baffling, however, is the inclusion of at least 187 aliases and undetermined John and Jane Does. This, according to human rights group here, may be used to arbitrarily add individuals who are critical of the Duterte regime.
“There is no doubt that the filing of the petition is an effort to sow fear and panic among Duterte’s detractors, subjectively prepare the public for more intense political repression, and be the front act of a crackdown against the dictator wannabe’s critics,” said human rights group Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
Since the plea is a civil action, not criminal, no warrants of arrest and other related legal actions will be issued against those listed as the supposed officers and members of the CPP and the NPA.
However, the Human Security Act of 2009 stipulates that suspected individuals may be subjected to legal surveillance, legal interception of communications, bank examination, freezing and sequestration of funds and even warrantless arrest.
What are the supposed grounds?
The terror tagging plea is based on 12 incidents that took place between March to December 2017 and several other incidents that took place before the passing of the Human Security Act of 2009.
The 12 incidents included armed encounters between government troops and the New People’s Army. It also included the unfortunate death of a four-month-old baby girl, who was caught in the crossfire on November 9, 2017, in Bukidnon, a province in the southern Philippines.
In a media briefing, human rights lawyer Edre Olalia said the bases for these incidents are mere self-serving police and military reports, which served as annexes to the complaint.
Meanwhile, other incidents that occurred before the passing of the Human Security Act of 2009 referred to the killings of former NPA leaders Arturo Tabara, Romulo Kintanar, and Filemon Lagman. Their killings also served as grounds for the filing of rebellion charges in 2006, which are already dismissed.
Even the long-dismissed murder charges for the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing against CPP founding chairperson Prof. Jose Maria Sison were also included.
The 12 incidents supposedly make up a predicate crime of terrorism as defined in the Human Security Act of 2009, which defined it as acts that sow and create a “condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.”
However, in a statement, the Central Committee of the CPP said: “there is a vast ocean of difference between a people waging an armed revolution and unleashing terrorist violence against the people.”
The CPP further added the NPA, in particular, is “guided by strict discipline,” which is directly opposite of President Duterte’s orders such as to bomb Lumad schools or to shoot female NPAs in the vagina.
“If there is anything that causes ‘widespread fear and panic among the people,’ it is the terrorism of the US-Duterte fascist regime,” the Central Committee of the CPP said.
Journalist and long-time activist Satur Ocampo, who is among those listed in the terror tagging plea, has already asked the Manila trial court to dismiss the “defective” and “totally baseless” petition.
Ocampo, who is also a former NDFP peace panel negotiator and now an independent cooperator for political and constitutional reforms, is among the seven names listed in the list with residential addresses.
“The petition is fatally defective. It merely made sweeping allegations and conclusions with nary an explanation, let alone evidence, on how such conclusions were reached,” said lawyer Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center, counsel of Ocampo.
Pastores said the bases for Ocampo’s inclusion are based on affidavits executed in 2006 that the Justice Department “merely recycled” from the rebellion charges filed at that time. This, she added, violates the basic rule that criminal laws shall have prospective application.
Meanwhile, others have yet to respond formally for the delisting since they have yet to receive a summons from the court.
As of this writing, the Philippine government, through the Department of Justice that filed the proscription petition, has yet to publish the summons in newspapers of general circulation as it said it will.
With the recent pronouncement of President Duterte ordering the resumption of the peace negotiation with the NDFP, which CPP and the NPA are component organizations, the plea to proscribe the two organizations as terrorist groups come into question.
President Duterte’s spokesman has already said there might be a “possibility” to withdraw the petition in light of the looming resumption of the peace talks. Still, there are those who remain adamant about it.
The fate of the terror listing plea still hangs on the balance. Perhaps until President Duterte changes his mind again.