MANILA — Two male Aetas alleged to be New People’s Army (NPA) rebels are about to become test cases for the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos are facing terrorism charges for allegedly violating section 4(a) of Republic Act 11479 before an Olongapo City court for allegedly firing and shooting at members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during an encounter in Zambales in August this year.
That incident led to the death of a soldier, based on the criminal charge against the two.
Gurung and Ramos have since been arraigned.
They and 2 other female Aeta minors are also facing separate non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and are detained at the Olongapo City Jail, said the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers whose Central Luzon chapter serves as the counsel for the accused.
According to NUPL, the 4 were part of a group of Aetas evacuating due to intense military operations and continued bombings in their ancestral lands in Zambales when they were arrested by the members of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army on August 21, 2020.
The NUPL accused the military of planting firearms and explosives on the accused and of falsely claiming they were NPA rebels.
Some of them, the group further said, were allegedly tortured and fed with human feces.
“The available facts & circumstances we received so far from our colleagues in NUPL-CL indicate that the charges were a way of reprisal against unarmed civilians (indigenous people) for the death of a soldier in an alleged encounter with the NPAs in the area. So it proves that almost anything can be contorted to fit the broad and vague definition of terrorism under the ATA,” NUPL President Edre Olalia said in a statement to the media.
Their case is among the first publicly-known terrorism cases pending before a Philippine court after it was signed into law by President Duterte and took effect in July. Its implementing rules and regulations were released in October this year.
Police also filed terrorism charges against a female Indonesian alleged to be a suicide bomber and 3 others arrested in October in Jolo, Sulu, who are accused of plotting more suicide bombings following the twin blasts in August which left 14 people dead.
Section 4(a) of the ATA refers to a mode of committing terrorism “intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life.”
The definition of terrorism under section 4 of the ATA is one of the most contentious provisions of the new law, assailed for the vagueness of the language and the breadth of its scope, which many rights advocates fear could curtail due process, equal protection, freedom of expression, among other rights.
NUPL, acting as counsel for Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), one of the petitioners against the ATA before the Supreme Court, manifested the existence of Gurung and Ramos’ case, the first to allege to have suffered direct injury under the new law. All other petitions have challenged the ATA based on the language of the law or what is called “facial challenge.”
The lawyers’ group claimed “the threats of impending prosecution, designation, proscription, surveillance and other sanctioned invasions of rights and liberties under RA 11479 hae worsened” since the last time they filed a manifestation in October.
NUPL cited statements by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and chief of the AFP Southern Luzon command disclosing some members of Bayan Muna have been under surveillance even before the ATA took effect.
Parlade also red-tagged several groups and individuals, including actress Angel Locsin and her sister Ella Colmenares. Both have denied membership in the CPP-NPA.
Parlade, in a Senate hearing, brought a few witnesses, whom NUPL said, could not stand scrutiny in court.
NUPL also cited Presidential Communications Operations Office Usec. Lorraine Marie Badoy’s red-tagging of former lawmaker Teddy Casiño, CNN Philippines and NUPL/Makabayan/BAYAN Chair Neri Colmenares.
“These baseless, blatant, and damaging vilification and red- tagging by those who are key components of the Anti-Terrorism Council have escalated the petitioners’ well-founded fear that RA 11479 and its unbridled power of designation will be used arbitrarily, without recognition of the principles of due process, presumption of innocence and basic rules of evidence,” the group said.
Thirty-seven petitions are currently pending before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the ATA.
A preliminary conference has been set on November 26 although no date has been set yet for the oral arguments on the consolidated petitions.