‘Red-tagging at its finest’
MANILA, Philippines — The government has formally declared “terrorists” 19 alleged ranking communist rebel leaders—most of whom are detained and included peace consultants and advocates—as well as 10 wanted leaders of Islamic extremist groups.
The Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) passed the resolutions last February and April but published them in a newspaper only on Thursday. It designated as terrorists 19 people accused of being central committee members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), in violation of Sections 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
The resolution dated April 21 was signed by Executive Secretary and ATC chair Salvador Medialdea and National Security Adviser and ATC vice-chair Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana backed the ATC’s move, saying in a statement that it would boost government efforts to avert acts of terror through the immediate capture of the listed persons.
Sobejana expressed confidence in the ATC’s move, which, he said, was “carried out based on verified and validated information.”
But the lawyers and supporters of the peace consultants and advocates listed said their designation as terrorists—after a Manila Regional Trial Court removed their names from a similar petition in 2018 for lack of evidence linking them to terror acts—was “Red-tagging at its finest” and a blatant violation of their right to due process.
‘Arbitrary, dubious’ list
Among those listed are CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison and wife Julieta, who have been in exile in the Netherlands for some 35 years.
In a statement posted on social media on Thursday, Sison said he and his wife “are not at all bothered “ by the resolution. He said the list was “arbitrary, dubious, and even contradictory or inconsistent with the various public and purportedly personal statements” of some officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF- Elcac.)
The others listed are National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panel consultants Vicente Ladlad, Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Tiamzon, Adelberto Silva, Rey Casambre, Alan Jazmines, Tirso Alcantara and Pedro Codaste.
The rest are Rafael Baylosis, Jorge Madlos, Abdias Gaudiana, Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala, Dionesio Micabalo, Myrna Sularte, Tomas Dominado, Ma. Loida Magpatoc and Menandro Villanueva.
In another resolution dated Feb. 24 and signed by Esperon, the ATC designated as terrorists 10 alleged leaders of violent extremist groups operating in Mindanao.
These are Abu Sayyaf Group leaders Raden Abu, Radzmil Jannatul, Majan Sahidjuan, Mudsrimar Sawadjaan and Almujer Yada; Faharudin Satar of the Maute Group; Esmael Abdulmalik and Salahuddin Hassan of the Daulah Islamiyah; and Esmael Abubakar and Muhiddin Animbang of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay told reporters the ATC followed its “internal mechanism” in designating “terrorists.”
“Most if not all of the designated individuals are out of the country or are at large,” he said, adding that many of them have pending criminal cases.
Sugay said additional criminal complaints may be filed “after appropriate proceedings.”
But Fides Lim, chair of the political detainees support group Kapatid, countered: “My husband Vicente Ladlad is not a terrorist or a criminal. His long record of activism, which includes political imprisonment for standing up for country and people, is an open book.”
“I shall use all legal remedies available to defend his innocence, even if they may seem illusory and ineffective under the current dispensation,” she added.
Sison said his and his wife’s “main concern” involved “those who are in the Philippines and are designated by the aforesaid resolution, and many more people who are Red-tagged and vulnerable to the criminal violence of the Duterte regime.”
He said those listed “are mostly publicly known” political consultants of the negotiating panel of the NDFP, the CPP’s political arm, which has been engaged in on-and-off peace talks with the government since 1987.
Talks under President Duterte collapsed in 2017, leading to the CPP’s designation as a terrorist organization.
Sison likened the ATC terrorist list to the European Union terrorist list, prepared by the European Commission, that included his name in 2002.
Complaining that he was not given the opportunity to respond to the accusations, he contested it at the European Court of First Instance which voided the list and had his name removed from it in 2009.
Designation—one of the most controversial provisions in the ATA—grants the ATC power to name persons suspected of “planning, conspiring, proposing and inciting to commit terrorism” on their own determination. It also authorizes the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze their assets while they seek to delist themselves.
Casambre, Ladlad, Silva, Baylosis, and the Tiamzons were among the original 600 named by the Department of Justice as suspected communists when it asked a Manila court to declare the CPP-NPA terrorists.
The case remains pending, but the court has dropped all but Sison and Antonio Cabanatan from the list for lack of sufficient evidence linking them to the CPP.
Public Interest Law Center lawyer Rachel Pastores, who represents Ladlad, Casambre, Silva, and Baylosis, questioned the consultants’ inclusion in the ATC list when “they… have already disclaimed to the court and the public ties to terrorist organizations and involvement in any terrorist activities.”
“Not only had they shown long track records in the legal democratic movement, the court [also] aptly dropped their names from the proscription petition under the Human Security Act because there was no evidence linking them to terrorist organizations or activities,” Pastores said.
She said their designation was a mere “regurgitation… of false assertions” amid the ongoing oral arguments on the ATA and a direct consequence of their role in the peace talks.
Activist groups Karapatan and Bayan slammed the peace consultants’ inclusion in the list as “ so brazenly arbitrary that it violates basic principles of due process—and whose consequences have proven to be deadly.”
“This sets a very perilous precedent [for] 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 said.
Said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes: “How can ‘terrorists’ engage the government in peace talks? Doesn’t that make the designation absurd, a retaliatory act in the aftermath of the scuttled negotiations? And won’t this affect future peace talks as the government is now using terrorist designation against those engaged in the peace process?” At the House of Representatives, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said the ATC’s terror-listing was “extremely arbitrary and devoid of due process.”
“Resolutions such as this could be manufactured and churned out at the drop of a hat. ATC has started to become a factory of terror-tagging resolutions,” he said.
—With reports from Ryan Rosauro, Jeannette I. Andrade, and Nestor Corrales