MANILA - Designating the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorist groups means freezing their assets and not immediate detention of its members, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Monday.
"When you talk about designation, it’s not about arrest. There will be no arrest [or] detention in the coming days. This is really more for going after the funds or the assets of the designated individual or organizations," Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay told ANC.
This, after the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) has begun the controversial process of designating who may be considered by authorities as “terrorists” and “terrorist groups” under the new anti-terror law.
Among those designated by the ATC as “terrorist organizations, associations, and/or groups" are the CPP-NPA, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in South-East Asia and Maute Group in 2 separate resolutions approved on Dec. 9.
Sugay also said the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) may examine accounts related to the CPP-NPA under Republic Act 10168 or "The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012."
"If it's found [that] these assets are related accounts, these assets may be subject to freeze order pursuant to designation issued by the ATC," he said.
Sugay said the ATC had not issued any list of individuals linked to the CPP-NPA, and it will leave it up to banks and covered financial institutions to determine accounts related to terrorist groups.
"I'm sure they have protocols and procedures in place. This is not the first time that banks and covered institutions will be doing this. I'm sure they have ways of determining this, obtaining information, ways of coordinating more closely with AMLC with regards to issues like this," he said.
In a separate interview, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) president Domingo Cayosa said arrests would be forthcoming after the ATC started its process of designating terrorist groups.
"Now [that] they are designated, they can freeze the accounts of these designated organizations and even your account or my account if they found them related in one way or another to these groups. It's really an open season for anyone," he said.
Cayosa expressed concern that the law left it to security forces to determine whom they allegedly want to suspect as terrorist groups or individuals.
"As a matter of fact, to be designated, you only need probable cause... traditionally, under jurisprudence and previous laws in the Constitution, probable cause means you must have evidence," he said.
"Under the implementing rules [of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020], it only says circumstances that would warrant them to suspect that you are a terrorist organization."
"Now, it's just circumstances to the appreciation of the Anti-Terrorism Council, which is enough to designate you as terrorist," he added.
The ATC is composed of Cabinet officials who are "alter egos" of President Rodrigo Duterte, Cayosa said.
"It all depends on the executive branch whom they wish to designate or suspect as terrorist and the arrest will be forthcoming," he added.
Critics of the anti-terror law have denounced the ATC’s power to designate terrorists as a violation of the right to due process, among others, since it precludes participation of suspected terrorists, leaving them no chance to oppose nor present evidence before their designation.
Activists have also expressed concern that the spate of red-tagging of rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and other groups committed by government officials themselves, could eventually lead to their being tagged as “terrorists” under the anti-terror law.
Thirty-seven petitions are pending before the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the anti-terror law. The high court will hold oral arguments on Jan. 19, 2021.