Karapatan: Arbitrary designation of peace consultants under terror law a death warrant

The Anti-Terrorism Council’s designation of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultants and peace panel members as “terrorists” under the Anti-Terrorism Act is “red-tagging in its most blatant and most dangerous,” human rights alliance Karapatan asserted on Thursday, as the group assailed the designation as “brazenly arbitrary that it violates basic principles of due process — and whose consequences have proven to be deadly.”

“The rabid red-taggers and notorious war criminals in the Anti-Terrorism Council are wasting no time in exercising their arbitrary powers despite the fact that the oral arguments on the petitions seeking to junk Duterte’s terror law are still ongoing in the Supreme Court, and this sets a very perilous precedent on the worsening crackdown on dissent in the country, especially when being tagged as terrorist is effectively a death warrant in itself,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Yesterday, May 12, Anti-Terrorism Council Vice Chairman and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. announced during the oral arguments that they were set to publish the names of individuals allegedly linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army that they have designated as “terrorists.” At least 19 individuals, among them 11 peace consultants and two peace panel members of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, were listed in the council’s Resolution No. 17 dated April 21 but was only published today.

Three NDFP peace consultants in the list— namely Rey Claro Casambre, Vicente Ladlad and Adelberto Silva — are currently jailed over trumped-up charges. The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) states that peace consultants and peace panel members should be spared from arrests, detention, and harassment. Despite the suspension of formal peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDFP, JASIG has not been formally terminated by both parties.

While the immediate effect of designation under the Anti-Terrorism Act should only be the freezing of assets of the named individuals by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and that individuals can petition for delisting, Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa pointed out during the oral arguments that the process of designation by the Anti-Terrorism Council “already achieves the purpose of proscription,” which is a distinct judicial process.

Palabay reiterated Associate Justice Caguioa’s remarks, averring that “both designation and proscription under the terror law practically produce the same effect and achieve the same ends which is to paint targets on the backs of people tagged as ‘terrorists,’ and Esperon’s red-tagging spree against legal organizations before the Supreme Court only cements the groundwork ongoing witch hunt against activists, human rights defenders, critics, and dissenters through the use of counterterrorism laws.”

The Karapatan official cited the AMLC’s freezing of assets and bank accounts of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines as well as those of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran Center in Davao through the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act as she continued that the Anti-Terrorism Council “can effectively use its arbitrary designation powers to go after organizations and deny their right to resources by making the same baseless accusations and barefaced lies.”

“The Duterte regime had also already tried to do this in 2018, when the Department of Justice petitioned to proscribe over 600 individuals as terrorists under the Human Security Act — and at least seven individuals named in that list have been murdered, including our human rights worker Zara Alvarez and peace consultants Randy Malayo and Randall Echanis. The Anti-Terrorism Council’s designation list is a virtual hit list, and we fear that there are more names and lists to come,” she said.

“The Supreme Court must act with urgency on our petitions to declare the terror law unconstitutional or at least issue a temporary restraining order against it, especially now that the Duterte administration is wasting no time using this draconian piece of legislation to heighten the crackdown on dissent and reign of terror. We call on the public to continue asserting the calls to junk the terror law and resist Duterte’s tyranny and dictatorship,” Palabay ended.