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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Rights activists file ‘delist’ plea from terrorist tag

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Human rights activists based in Cordillera filed a petition before a Baguio City court questioning their terrorist designation and challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) in June 2023 branded Windel Bolinget, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, Jennifer Awingan-Taggaoa, and Stephen Tauli, as well as indigenous peoples and officials or members of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), as “terrorists,” ABS-CBN News reported.

The assets of the said individuals were also frozen by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

The petitioners had asked the ATC to remove their names from the list of terrorists, in a process called “delisting,” but the council denied their request. The petition named the ATC and AMLC as respondents.

The petitioners also alleged that their terrorist designation was “arbitrary and unconstitutional” because they were deprived of due process and the opportunity to contest the designation.

“The law subjects designated persons to a process without prior notice of the basis of the designation, a venue to counter such basis prior to their designation, and procedural modes of higher judicial review,” the petition said.

“Worse, they are already made to suffer the consequences of being a designated person and no recourse is provided by the said provision to challenge the factual basis for their designation,” it added.

Petitioners argued that throughout the existence of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, it has shown that it is “not a legal front of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) or any local or international terrorist organization.” They cited its registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission, its participation in United Nations processes, and cooperation with the Commission on Human Rights, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

They said they have “never participated in any terrorist act” and neither are they part of any terrorist group or association.

Instead, they claimed they were “persistently harassed and threatened” for their advocacy in protecting the rights and welfare of the Cordillera people.

These incidents include red-tagging on social media and by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, declaration of CPA as persona non-grata by different local government units, and the abduction and mauling of Tauli.

In January 2021, the Cordillera Police regional director allegedly issued a “shoot to kill” order for Bolinget while various criminal charges ranging from rebellion to arson and robbery were filed against petitioners which were all dismissed either by the courts or by the prosecutors.

“Considering that none of the criminal cases slapped against them prospered in a court of law, Petitioners’ designation was resorted to as another way to chill them into silence and suppress their work as indigenous peoples’ rights advocates,” they claimed, explaining that they were “forced to refrain” from taking part in public discourse even if these were protected under the Constitution.

The petitioners complained that it’s not just their bank accounts and properties which the AMLC froze but even those of third persons and the CPA itself, which were not designated as terrorists.

“Needless to add, the freezing of the lawful properties and funds of CPA without due process of law had caused irreparable injury to the organization and its beneficiaries in various communities in the Cordillera Region,” they claimed.

Petitioners said the effect on them went further.

“They also include surveillance under Section 16 and examination of bank deposits under Section 35. Third persons who have donated to or provided support to designees may also be prosecuted under Section 12 for providing material support or for giving material aid to designees even if the determination was only made by Respondent ATC,” they said.

According to petitioners, the root cause of the violation of their rights is the lack of prior notice and hearing before the ATC makes the designation.

“Thus, until their official designation was publicly announced, Petitioners were left in the dark—excluded from a completely opaque process that only Respondent knows and does behind closed doors,” they said.

They also argued that the Anti-Terrorism Act provision on designation of terrorists does not have a “discernible criteria” nor an “ascertainable standard” to determine probable cause for designation, giving the ATC “carte blanche” license to designate anyone.

Neither does designation have an automatic review system or a mechanism to correct the designation, petitioners said.

“It is the IRR (implementing rules and regulations), not the ATA itself, that provides for delisting. As the ATA does not explicitly grant this remedy, it could be disregarded or perceived as a matter of discretion. It constitutes an ultra vires addition to the law and, consequently, is deemed invalid,” they added.

Aside from declaring unconstitutional section 25 of the ATA on designation, the petitioners asked the court to void the resolutions issued by ATC and AMLC.

In addition, they asked that the court issue a writ of preliminary injunction to stop the two agencies from implementing its authority to designate terrorists.

The petition is among the first to challenge the constitutionality of the ATA after the Supreme Court upheld most of its provisions in December 2021.

Only portions of 2 provisions were struck down, including the provision automatically adopting the designation of terrorists by supranational or other jurisdictions.

The other part declared void was a qualifier to a provision in section 4 of the ATA defining terrorism.

That challenge to the ATA however was based on the language of the law, not as it is being applied by law enforcers.

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