Increased use of terror law vs indigenous, environmental defenders in PH sets stage for more repression

The terrorist designation of four Cordillera human rights defenders as well as the filing of charges under Republic Act No. 11479 or the “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” against two women environmental defenders in Southern Tagalog, among many other numerous consecutive reported cases on the use of the terror law, sets a dangerous precedent to more repression and rights violations under the Marcos Jr. administration, according to rights group Karapatan.

In a meeting in Baguio City today, January 26, 2024, of UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan with leaders of people’s organizations in the Cordillera, as well as Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon, activists and journalists discussed the issues of terrorist designation, red-tagging, fake and forced surrenders, and other forms of threats and violations, as earlier stated in their submissions to Khan.

“The terrorist designation came after years of intensified attacks against the leaders of the Cordillera People’s Alliance by the NTF-ELCAC. Needless to say, the wrongful terrorist designation has the ultimate motives of silencing the Cordillera activists and infringing on the indigenous people and peasants’ right to their land and freedoms,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

In 2023, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) baselessly and arbitrarily designated six environmental defenders and indigenous people’s leaders in the Cordillera, including Cordillera People’s Alliance chairperson Windel Bolinget and CPA leaders Jennifer Awingan, Sarah Abellon-Alikes and Stephen Tauli as “terrorist individuals,” in its Resolution No. 41 on June 7, 2023. The ATC resolution was also followed by the freezing of personal and organizational funds.

The Cordillera-based activists were also charged with a variety of trumped-up cases in the past years, all of which were subsequently quashed or dismissed. Bolinget was previously included, and later removed, in the DOJ “proscription list” of ‘terrorist individuals’ back in 2018. Tauli, on the other hand, was abducted on August 20, 2022, subjected to interrogation, and coerced into signing a document stating his supposed position in the CPP-NPA. He was surfaced and found the next day.

A Baguio court’s hearing on the four’s petition questioning their designation was reset today. They joined other activists in the meeting with Ms. Khan.

Meanwhile, in a communication to the Philippine government by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor and on the environment David Boyd in October 2023 but made public yesterday, January 25, the independent experts raised serious concerns on the arbitrary arrest and detention of Southern Tagalog-based women environmental human rights defenders Miguela Peniero and Rowena Dasig, as well as “the falsified allegations against them, which occurred whilst they were carrying out their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities in communities whose livelihoods and health have reportedly been and are likely to increasingly be detrimentally affected by the environmental impact” of a proposed gas-turbine project and natural gas terminal plant in Atimonan, Quezon Province.

According to the experts’ statement, another arrest warrant dated 18 July 2023 surfaced against Peniero and six other individuals, alleging that the WHRD is a terrorist under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

According to Karapatan, there are at least twenty-seven (27) political prisoners who faced or are facing charges under the the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Republic Act No. 10168, or “The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act.” At least 51 individuals face trumped up charges under Republic Act No. 10168 and Republic Act No. 11479.

“The use of the terror law to suppress dissent is in full swing under Marcos Jr., and we can only brace for more, unless it is repealed. The Supreme Court’s recently released guidelines do not cure the main defects of the law in terms of human rights protection. We reiterate our call for the repeal of RA 10168 and RA 11479,” Palabay said.

Copy of communication by Lawlor and Boyd can be accessed here: