UN report urges PH: Stop ‘misusing’ anti-terror measures vs. clergy, activists

A United Nations (UN) special mandates report raised serious concerns over repeated allegations of the Philippine government’s misuse of counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws against members of the clergy and other activists.   

Six UN Special Rapportuers said it received reports of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, killing, and filing of fabricated charges against civil society activists from 2019 to 2023, spanning the second half of the Rodrigo Duterte government and the first year of the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.

“We express our serious concern over the allegations of judicial harassment, office raids, targeted financial sanctions, asset freezing and other administrative sanctions against religious groups, Indigenous Peoples and organizations,” the experts also said.

In a report dated October 10, 2023 but only made public this week, the experts also expressed concern over the Philippine government’s over-broad definition of terrorism in its law, Republic Act 11479.

 “We note with concern that there appears to be an observable trend in the Philippines, whereby individuals and groups associated with churches, who are living out their faith through development and humanitarian work, have been linked by the government to CPP-NPA-NDFP (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines),” the report reads.

“We also express serious concern about the seemingly broad and unchecked executive powers implicated by the allegations—particularly the discretion of the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate individuals and organizations as “terrorist” and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to adopt targeted financial sanctions thereafter,” it added.

The experts said the Philippine government has also employed its counter-terrorism financing oversight powers in a broad and arbitrary manner against non-profit organisations and individuals, including the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

The UN experts said it looked into reports on of 24 victims who included two bishops and other clergy, a journalist, indigenous rights advocates, lawyers, non-profit organizations and other human rights defenders.

The report said the Duterte government filed a reply to UN in 2020, assuring the international community of its compliance to international human rights standard but still urged Manila to provide those it charges with crimes “all appropriate legal safeguards.”

The experts’ findings were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.

Aolain was joined in the report by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; José Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

“We are concerned that such measures risk obstructing the delivery of vital and well-protected humanitarian, human rights and development services,” they said, adding such moves violate the Philippines’ human rights obligations under international law. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Maling-mali ang paratang ng NTF-ELCAC na kami ay terorista’

“Maling-mali ang paratang ng National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict o NTF-ELCAC at ibang opisyal publiko na kami ay terorista. Ito ay labag sa karapatang pantao, labag sa sinumpaang mandato ng gobyerno sa mamamayan. Ang ganitong pananakot at pagsiil ay pagpapahamak sa aming women’s rights advocates, at pagkakait sa kababaihan na nangangailangan ng tulong at pag-agapay.” Joms Salvador, Secretary General, Gabriela

Defiance greets passage of Duterte’s Anti-Terror Bill

Progressive groups, activists, and human rights advocates held an indignation rally at the University of the Philippines and House of Representatives last Wednesday, June 4, as the Philippine Congress passed President Rodrigo Duterte-certified anti-terrorism bill.

After the government imposed a lockdown over much of the country, the protesters defiantly held one of the first rallies to denounce the bill they fear would violate the people’s civil and political rights instead of going after real terrorists.

Among the provisions of the proposed law the protesters oppose is the allowance of warrantless arrests, extended imprisonment without charges and a vague definition of terrorism that may lead to arrests of government critics. (Video by Jek Alcaraz, Sanafe Marcelo, & Joseph Cuevas/Kodao, Music by Levy Abad)

NDFP offers unilateral ceasefire with GRP vs terrorism

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands–The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panel has formally offered the Duterte government “cooperation and coordination” in the “fight against terrorism, terrorist groups and acts of terrorism.”

After last-minute backchannel talks with Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III, the NDFP said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) may be bound by a ceasefire agreement in specific areas to “counteract the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf.”

Bello and GRP peace panel member Angela Trinidad returned to this city from trips in Italy and Switzerland and met with the NDFP for four hours.

“He came with an offer if the NDFP can issue a statement he could welcome and respond to,” Agcaoili said.

Bello was able to read the NDFP statement before going to Schipol Airport for his flight back to Manila.

“I will just wait for a signed copy to be sent to me,” Bello told Kodao before leaving the hotel.

The NDFP said that should the GRP respond favorably to their statement, “ceasefire declarations that are unilateral but simultaneous and reciprocal” shall be issued.

Such ceasefire declarations should be negotiated and approved by the negotiating panels, Agcaoili said.

The NDFP said the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf are “terrorist groups linked to local reactionary forces, affiliated with the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and supported by the US-CIA (United States-Central Intelligence Agency) as well as other foreign entities.”

“By terrorism we mean actions that intimidate, terrorize and harm civilians solely and mainly in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law,” the NDFP added.

Back to the negotiating table

The NDFP also urged the GRP negotiating panel to come back to the negotiating table and realize the fifth round of formal talks as soon as possible.

“The GRP and NDFP must act in consonance with the Filipino people’s clamor for peace negotiations and their demand for social, economic and political reforms to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace,” the NDFP said.

The fifth round of formal talks originally scheduled to end today was aborted last May 28 when the GRP announced it will not participate for “lack of an enabling environment.”

Preparations for the fifth round of formal talks must be undertake through bilateral teams of the GRP and the NDFP so that precious time is not lost, the NDFP said.

The group added that all its panellists, legal and political consultants and other personnel in the peace negotiations must be allowed to return to the Philippines and subsequently attend the fifth round of formal talks.

GRP President Rodrigo Duterte earlier threatened to arrest and jail the NDFP consultants who may return to the Philippines after the aborted talks. # (Report and photo by Raymund B. Villanueva)

The NDFP Statement of June 1, 2017.