The Rodrigo Duterte government’s amendment to its petition to proscribe revolutionary groups as terrorists is proof that it has a weak case against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), a human rights lawyer said.
In a statement, National Union of People’s Lawyer president Edre Olalia said the government’s original petition filed in February 2018 is weak and is merely a move to railroad the legal process.
“[The] amended petition by the government to proscribe the CPP-NPA is proof that the original one was sloppy, shotgun and arbitrary against hundreds of individuals and was designed to harass and threaten them,” Olalia said.
Last January 3, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the amended petition before Branch 19 of the Regional Trial Court in Manila.
Six hundred individuals listed as “terrorists” in the original petition have been taken off but retained CPP founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison; NPA national operations command spokesperson Jorge Madlos; NPA’s Melito Glor Command spokesperson Jaime Padilla, National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Negros spokesperson Francisco Fernandez; alleged CPP-Visayas deputy secretary Cleofe Lagtapon; alleged CPP Mindanao Commission secretary Antonio Cabanatan; alleged NPA-Mindanao leader; and alleged NPA-Mindanao operations chief Myrna Sularte.
The amended petition no longer includes United Nations Environment Programme 2018 Champion of the Earth awardee Joan Carling and five Baguio activists like Jeanette Ribaya-Cawiding.
Cawiding, former chair of the Tongtongan ti Umili and coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), said the new petition removes them from immediate danger posed by being labelled as terrorists, but said government spying on non-government organizations remains as a threat to free speech and human rights.
“This is a partial victory, but we cannot let our guard down,” Cawiding said.
She points to the latest red-tagging of ACT and harassment of teachers who are ACT members as proof that the threat against activists and government critics will continue.
“Harassment has been continuous against progressive organizations, like ACT, the delisting of the individuals named in the DOJ proscription does not guarantee the protection of our rights and our safety because the Philippine National Police and Malacañang are justifying their witch hunt in the context of [Duterte’s] Executive Order 70,” Cawiding said.
EO 70, signed last December, directs the creation of a national task force headed by the President and vice-chaired by the National Security Adviser to end local communist armed conflict and pushed for localized peace talks.
The court earlier directed the DOJ to remove the names of Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Concerns and former Baguio councilor Jose Molintas.
Molintas was also a former member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP).
Corpuz, Carling, Longid and Molintas are former leaders of the militant Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), which Cariño helped establish as an indigenous peoples’ rights group that opposed the Marcos regime.
Current CPA chair Windell Bolinget said strong protests pushed the DOJ to amend its proscription petition.
But he said the threat does not end.
“They wanted the proscription of the CPP and NPA as terrorists by focusing on few names. Once they are proscribed as terrorists, people they suspect, vilify and attack as fronts and supporters will be linked and later considered terrorists. This is the danger,” Bolinget said.
Olalia said that even with the amendment, the petition remains dangerous to those earlier named.
“[The] present petition remains to be without legal and factual basis and repackaged the old one in order to railroad the legal process. This will in turn violate a slew of individual and collective rights not only for those who remain in the list but many others who are maliciously identified, associated, suspected or labelled,” Olalia said.
IFI Bishop Vermilon Tagalog, chair of the regional coordinating committee of the Ilocos Network for the Environment welcomed the amended DOJ petition but said “the removal of names does not guarantee their safety”.
“The mere existence of the DOJ petition remains a clear threat especially with the insistent communist-tagging of Duterte’s administration of activists and progressive organizations,” Tagalog added.
Tagalog said that the Human Security Act of 2007, the DOJ’s basis for the filing of the proscription petition is not just directed against “terrorists” but also to critics of the government.
“We call on all environmental defenders to remain vigilant and steadfast in the fight against efforts of the administration to impose its tyrannical rule and clamped-down on our democratic rights.” #(Raymund B. Villanueva/ Kodao and Kimberlie Olmaya Ngabit-Quitasol/Northern Dispatch)