Anti-Terrorism Act foes ask SC: Stop Esperon testimony
MANILA, Philippines — Several petitioners contesting the constitutionality of the antiterrorism law have asked the Supreme Court to discontinue the red-tagging by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. right in the high tribunal itself.
They also asked the court to delete from its records the controversial videos that Esperon presented to the justices during oral arguments last Wednesday.
In the 16-page omnibus motion they filed on Friday, several of the 37 groups of petitioners against Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA), appealed to the magistrates to reconsider their decision to allow President Rodrigo Duterte’s security adviser to continue his “testimony” next week.
As the Supreme Court is not a “trier of facts,” then Esperon should not be allowed to “testify” before the magistrates, they argued.
They said it was ironic that while several members of the tribunal were expressing alarm over the red-tagging of various organizations, lawyers and judges, Esperon was openly doing just that to progressive groups during Wednesday’s online court proceedings.
“No one — especially our government officials — should be allowed to use the proceedings of this court as a platform to engage in acts that are not only anomalous, but downright dangerous,” the petitioners said.
Human rights groups have cited numerous cases where red-tagging, or the labeling of critics of the government or the political opposition as members or supporters of communist rebels, had led to violent attacks or killings of political activists and members of people’s organizations.
“It is, in fact, ironic that when the court wanted to know if the situation today is reminiscent of McCarthyism, (Esperon) actually engaged in McCarthyite red-tagging, which is deadly business in the Philippines,” the petitioners said.
Old Joma videos
During Wednesday’s oral arguments, Assistant Solicitor Generals Marissa Galandines and Raymund Rigodon invoked national security in declining to answer some questions from the justices. They requested the magistrates to ask Esperon himself.
During the court proceedings, Esperon showed two old videos of Jose Maria Sison, the self-exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), instead of directly answering questions from Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang.
Esperon claimed that Sison’s recorded messages, including one that was taken in 1987, would prove the connection of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, one of the petitioners, to the CPP.
The petitioners said the videos and Esperon’s remarks were “not responsive” to the issues being discussed during the oral arguments and that these concerned factual matters beyond the ambit of the 15-member tribunal.
Besides not being sworn to testify, Esperon presented videos that were not properly vetted as mandated under Section 1, Rule 11 of the Rules on Electronic Evidence, they added.
“Moreover, Esperon engaged in the defamatory red-tagging at will [of] certain legitimate organizations without the latter having the opportunity to rebut his indictments,” the petitioners argued.
Reacting to the petition, Esperon on Saturday said it was Sison who allegedly identified the groups that supposedly were affiliated to the rebel movement.
Casambre on FBA day after Esperon appeared at the Supreme Court, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), of which he is the vice chair, disclosed a list 19 people that the ATC had designated as terrorists and alleged members of the central committee of the CPP.
The list included Sison and several consultants to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines who were involved in the peace talks before they were terminated by Duterte. One of them, Rey Claro Casambre, called the terrorist designation as “just another nefarious device concocted by those who reckon they can and must go around or against the Constitution and the rules of law, fair play and common decency to silence those who speak and clamor for change.”
In a statement posted on Sison’s Facebook page, Casambre said he and his wife were arrested on Dec. 7 last year on “totally fabricated charges” of taking part in a rebel ambush on Sept. 13, 2020.
He said he and his wife were the “first real victims” of the “red-tagging and terrorist branding” by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
The task force was created under Executive Order No. 70, which was issued by Duterte after he scuttled the peace talks in 2018.
“Nobody but nobody, my accusers included, believes I am a terrorist,” said Casambre, executive director of the Philippine Peace Center.
“This is really not just about us peace consultants, negotiators and advocates,” he said. “The real targets of EO 70 and the ATA are the vision and quest for fundamental reforms that could and would bring just and lasting peace and prosperity. The foremost and ultimate victims are the Filipino people themselves.”
During Saturday’s Laging Handa briefing, Esperon said the CPP list and a separate one that included 10 alleged leaders of Islamic State-affiliated groups “went through meticulous research” by the government’s intelligence agencies, the military and the police.
He said the communist leaders on the list had been leading the insurgency in the country for 52 years and had warrants of arrest for killings in connection with the internal purging in their organization.
“What more proof do we need if they are running the New People’s Army?” Esperon said, referring to the CPP’s armed wing.
He also said the CPP leaders who have been designated as terrorists were only named as peace talks consultants so they could be released from detention to participate in the negotiations.
“Now that there are no more peace talks, where are they? Did they return? No! In other words, they are just making fools of us,” Esperon said.
Casambre said that aside from him and Sison, those on the list includedw two peace negotiators and 10 other publicly known peace consultants.
—WITH REPORTS FROM CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO AND LEILA B. SALAVERRIA
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