On the 4th year after ATL enactment, KARAPATAN renews call for the junking of terror laws

Today marks the fourth year of Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terror Act (ATA) of 2020. Since its enactment, the terror law, along with its evil twin, Republic Act No. 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 have been weaponized to criminalize dissent and demonize activists.

To date, more than a hundred activists have faced complaints or court charges based on these twin terror laws.

The latest victims are Makabayan secretary general Nathaniel Santiago, Anakpawis campaign director Servillano “Jun” Luna Jr., ASCENT convenor and development worker Rosario Brenda Gonzales and Bulacan Ecumenical Forum volunteer lay worker Anasusa San Gabriel. On January 9, 2024, the investigating prosecutor of Cabanatuan City recommended their indictment for alleged violation of the ATA.

The fabricated ATA violation charge stems from their alleged participation in a supposed armed encounter between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the 84th IBPA in Barangay San Fernando, Laur, Nueva Ecija on October 8, 2023. The respondents submitted their counter-affidavits on May 3, 2024, vehemently belying the facts and allegations and detailing their whereabouts during the alleged incident. In a resolution dated May 15, 2024, however, the investigating prosecutor disregarded the respondents’ affidavits and recommended the filing of charges against them.

In the case of the terrorist financing law, several non-government organizations (NGOs) engaged in development work have had their bank accounts and assets frozen, with some facing civil forfeiture proceedings, on false allegations of having provided financial and material support to the NPA. The latest to be victimized is the Cebu-based Community Empowerment and Resource Network (CERNET).

On May 13, 2024, Cebu City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 issued warrants of arrest against 28 individuals who are current or previous members of the council, board or staff of CERNET and set bail at Php 200,000.00 each. Founded in 2001, CERNET is a Cebu-based development NGO that has consistently worked alongside grassroots organizations to alleviate poverty in marginalized communities in the Visayas. CERNET and the 27 individuals with current or previous connections to it are facing trumped-up terrorist financing charges solely on the testimony of a purported rebel returnee.

Almost simultaneously, the Leyte Center for Development Inc. (LCDe) as well as the personal bank accounts of its executive director and members of its staff were ordered frozen. LCDe is a 36-year old development NGO based in Palo, Leyte that has won numerous awards for assisting poor and marginalized communities in Eastern Visayas especially in disaster preparedness and response. Its funds are sourced from private corporations and at least seven countries, and it has partnered with 23 local government units in Samar and Leyte. Its freeze order stems from alleged findings that LCDe executive director Jazmin Jerusalem and her staff had been providing funds to the CPP and NPA. Jerusalem and the LCDe staff had allegedly been designated as “terrorists” although no public information is available attesting to this.

In the fallout, the accounts of the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC), a development NGO with partners nationwide focused on community-based disaster management, have likewise been ordered frozen allegedly because it is a direct recipient of funds from the bank accounts of LCDe.

Earlier, on March 19, 2024, terrorist financing charges were also levelled against four current or active officers, members or project partners of the Negros-based Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group Inc. (PDG) which focuses on promoting sustainable agricultural programs.

The very first NGOs and people’s organizations victimized under the terrorist financing law were the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and its Northern Mindanao office; the United Church of Christ of the Philippines HARAN ministry in Davao City and Brokenshire Integrated Health Ministries, Inc. (BIHMI) also based in Davao City and local church UCCP Fatima in Ubay, Bohol; Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women; and a number of smaller NGOs in Mindanao.

These cases against human rights defenders, political activists and other dissenters signify escalating fascist repression leading to the rapidly shrinking civic space and grave deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. As a testament to the falsity, unjustness and arbitrariness of these cases, many of the ATA-related trumped-up charges against activists have been dismissed.

Karapatan calls for a stop to the filing of such manufactured cases and demands the junking of the twin terror laws for being highly injurious to the people’s civil and political rights and for being brazen instruments of fascist repression.