MANILA - Three indigenous leaders who were previously labeled as terrorists in an unverified government proscription list have joined forces with Moro and civil society leaders in a bid to nullify and stop the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Indigenous leaders Beverly Longid, Windel Bolinget and Joanna Cariño on Friday filed with the Supreme Court the 26th petition against the new law, citing imminent threat that Republic Act 11479 would only aggravate red-baiting and violate their right to self-determination.
They were joined by former senatorial candidate and Bangsamoro feminist leader Samira Gutoc, fellow indigenous leaders Nora Sukal, Teresa de la Cruz, Francisca Tolentino and Judy Pasimio, and Lumad school teachers Rose Hayahay and Chad Errol Booc.
Named as respondents were the Anti-Terrorism Council and its members, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Longid and Bolinget are from KATRIBU (Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas) while Cariño co-chairs the SANDUGO Alliance of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination.
In February 2018, they were included in a list of 461 names and 188 aliases which the Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted to a Manila court in seeking to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People's Army (NPA) as terrorist organizations under the Human Security Act of 2007, the law which the new anti-terrorism measure replaced.
The DOJ, however, amended its petition in January 2019 leaving only 8 names alleged to be officers of the CPP-NPA.
The Manila court later found only 2 names -- CPP chairman Jose Maria Sison and Antonio Cabanatan, Secretary of the Mindanao Commission -- as having “undisputed links” to the CPP-NPA, but only for the purpose of serving summons.
The petition was filed during the term of former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte signed a proclamation declaring the CPP-NPA a terrorist organization.
But his successor, current Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, had said in 2018 that the DOJ itself “did not have any personal verification of any connection of these individuals with the CPP or the NPA.”
ANTI-TERRORISM ACT TO INCREASE RED-BAITING
For the petitioners, the proscription case, the only one brought so far in court, will not be the last time that indigenous groups and individuals working with them will be red-tagged as fronts of the CPP-NPA or as terrorists.
"The passage of RA 11479 will even potentially exponentially increase the instances of this red-baiting on three grounds: its vague provisions, its disregard for the context of the indigenous peoples, and it's giving more power to State forces, most of whom have been at the forefront of the abuses against the indigenous peoples," the petition said.
Among the vague provisions they cited:
- The definitions of terrorism and threat to commit terrorism in Sections 4 and 5, which they said fail to clearly define the acts prohibited, focusing instead on the purpose of the acts without setting concrete standards to determine them
- Planning, training, preparing and facilitating the commission of terrorism under Section 6, which covers possessing, collecting and making of documents
- Recruitment and membership in a terrorist organization in Section 10 which does not have sufficient standards to determine how individuals "join, commit or support" terrorist groups
- Providing material support to terrorists under Section 12 which could cover even providing food to a random individual
Petitioners also questioned the broad scope of the law, specifically section 9 on inciting to terrorism which covers speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems and banners without stating what actual acts are supposed to be incited.
The danger in these provisions, they said, is that "the power to ascertain that intention, lies exclusively within the mind of the arresting officer, and the convicting judge."
"The law’s provisions would transform the Philippines into a paranoid policing state where terrorism would be ascribed to mass gatherings where the people usually voice their dissent to governmental action and cry for substantial changes in governance; it would render it easy, and even convenient to simply say that such movements have been instigated with the terrorist intentions as stated in RA 11479, or that these actions intimidate the general public," the petition warned.
They also flagged possible abuses with expanded powers granted to law enforcers, including the Anti-Terrorism Council's authority to designate terrorists on the basis of suspicion, authorize their warrantless arrest and detention for up to 24 days as well as freezing of assets of suspects.
In addition, they assailed the authority to conduct surveillance and wiretapping of terrorist suspects as violation of the right against unreasonable search and seizure.
The effect of these provisions and the subsequent pervasive red-tagging against government critics, petitioners said, is to hinder indigenous peoples' right to self-determination, accusing the military and paramilitary units of resorting to red-tagging to "silence or cause untold human rights abuses on vocal dissenters, and thereby subdue the indigenous peoples assertion of their rights."
They cited a 2019 report ranking the Philippines as the deadliest country for land and environment defenders with 49 deaths, 20 percent of which involved indigenous peoples.
This, they said, could apply to Muslims, too.
"The Moro people are similarly placed in grave insecurity under RA 11479. The RA 11479 takes off from the dominant and prevailing global counter-terrorism agenda post 9/11 in which the central villainous figure is characterized as the Muslim terrorist. In the local context, the historical characterization of the Moro as juramentado plays into this imaginary," they said.
"The labels 'terrorist' and 'insurgents' have become the catch-all pretext to legitimize attacks on them. Far from a law that protects, RA 11479 legitimizes the structural violence already perpetuated against them and is repugnant to constitutional values," they asserted.
Samira Gutoc, chair of NGO AkoBakwit, said Muslims have been subjected to profiling as a result of current government policies and the new law will increase the risk and will be a blow to the hard-won passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the culmination of peace negotiations between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
In an online press conference shortly after filing, former Ateneo School of Government Dean and law professor Tony Laviña, one of the lawyers for petitioners, said that red-tagging has been happening even before the Human Security Act in 2007, going as far back as Marcos' time during martial law.
"And this particular new law, anti-terror law, worsens that. The petitioners for example have already been red-tagged a number of times, or have been accused of being terrorists, just for asserting their rights to go back to their homes. So that has to stop," he said.
Petitioners' other lawyers include Efenita Taqueban and Ryan Roset of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Friends of the Earth Philippines and Joy Jameela Reyes.