Despite dismissal of charges vs Aetas under terror law, Duterte gov’t continues terror-tagging with arbitrary designation of NDF

The dismissal of the charges against Aetas Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos “clearly show how the Anti-Terrorism Act is being used to fabricate charges against individuals and arbitrarily tag them as ‘terrorists,’” human rights alliance Karapatan said on Monday, as it slammed the statement of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on the said dismissal. The group also decried the Anti-Terrorism Council’s (ATC) designation of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as a “terrorist organization” for “continuing the same dangerous tactic of terrorist-tagging and brazenly violating due process.”

“Ang kapal talaga ng mukha ng NTF-ELCAC. Soldiers under their command are the ones who red-tagged and tortured, filed falsified charges, and jailed Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos — yet they have the audacity to pin the blame on Karapatan? Far from showing that the justice system works, the dismissal of the charges against them only shows how judicial processes and the terror law itself is being used to concoct lies to harass individuals and tag them as ‘terrorists’ and violate their rights. In fact, the ATC’s arbitrary designation of the NDFP only lays the groundwork for more trumped-up and fabricated charges against peace advocates, human rights defenders, and political dissenters,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

In an order dated July 15, 2021 Presiding Judge Melani Fay Tadili of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 97 dismissed the charges against Gurung and Ramos under Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and ordered their immediate release for insufficiency of evidence. The court noted “material inconsistencies” in the witness testimonies of two soldiers who filed the charges against Gurung and Ramos and found that the “accused were not proven to be the perpetrators of the act of terrorism” and that, therefore, “their warrantless arrest was unlawful.” The order also rendered the warrantless search against them invalid and the firearms and explosives supposedly seized from them inadmissible.

On the NTF-ELCAC’s accusation that Karapatan is “exploiting the case,” Palabay averred that “it is the NTF-ELCAC who has shamelessly exploited the case after they swooped in with their nefarious agaw-kliyente tactics and proceeding to legally represent the same people they have charged. The fact that Marlon Bosantog stated they have no plans to file countercharges against the soldiers who lodged these fabricated charges against Gurung and Ramos shows that the NTF-ELCAC does not have truth, justice, and accountability in its interests in representing them. What they want is to exploit the case to twistedly paint themselves as saviors, to red-tag us, and to counter the loud calls to junk the terror law.”

Meanwhile, the ATC designated the NDFP as a “terrorist organization” in a resolution dated June 23 but was only published today, following the designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army last December 9, 2020, as well as the designation of 19 individuals including NDFP peace consultants in an April 21, 2021 resolution. In light of the dismissal of the charges against Gurung and Ramos, Palabay averred that “a court has already shown how the NTF-ELCAC and the military can falsely charge and jail individuals using the terror law under legally dubious bases. The ATC’s arbitrary designations are also equally dubious, if not totally baseless and malicious.”

“By designating the NDFP as a ‘terrorist organization,’ the ATC is not out to freeze assets and bank accounts: they are showing their true and rotting warmongering character by shutting the doors to peace negotiations and in resolving the roots of armed conflict towards just and lasting peace, in favor of waging a bloody war and crackdown against any and all forms of dissent against Duterte’s fascist rule — with the terror law as the government’s legal fiat in its murderous red-tagging rampage, especially when the designation of any individual as a terrorist is a virtual death warrant,” the Karapatan official continued.

“The court’s decision to dismiss the charges against Gurung and Ramos show us how the government through the NTF-ELCAC can wield lies to tag, charge, and jail individuals as ‘terrorists,’ and it is only set to ramp up this rampage of lies through the ATC’s designation spree. Their intent for the law is clear: to unleash State terror, violence, and repression to stamp out any opposition to Duterte’s tyrannical reign, especially with the upcoming national elections. We cannot let more people go to jail or die because of this draconian piece of legislation. The Supreme Court must junk the terror law now, before it is too late,” she concluded.