4 Cordillera activists tagged as ‘terrorists’
BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — Three activists, who asked the Supreme Court to protect them from state-led harassment last month, have been designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) on June 7 along with another Baguio-based colleague.
The ATC, through Resolution No. 41, series of 2023, released to the public in a statement Monday, said the declaration was “based on verified and validated information, sworn statements, and other pieces of evidence gathered by different Philippine law enforcement agencies.”
The resolution classifies Windel Bolinget, chair of the Baguio-based activist group Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA); Sara Alikes; and Steve Tauli, a brother of a former United Nations special rapporteur, as terrorists for being communist rebels or affiliates, said Councilor Jose Molintas in an interview on Monday.
Bolinget, for instance, is identified as a supposed “member of the Cordillera White Area Committee of the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) and secretary of its Regional Alliances,” which the CPA, in a statement, denies.
A fourth CPA member, researcher Jennifer Awingan, was also tagged as a terrorist.
The CPA hit back at the ATC’s “terrorist-tagging,” claiming the law was being used to “stifle dissent and target activists.”
“While we at CPA continue to seek legal remedies to ensure our safety, security and human rights in this shrinking democratic space, the state also weaponizes everything at its disposal to silence us,” the group said in statement issued Monday.
Molintas, a human rights lawyer and one of the group’s legal consultants, said one of the activists’ options was to file a petition seeking their delisting from the ATC’s roster of terrorists, to possibly include May Vargas-Casilao and Jovencio Tangbawan who were also named in ATC Resolution 41.
The closest court that is designated to address antiterror issues is in Urdaneta City, he said.
A terror tag allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council “to investigate and freeze the financial assets and properties of designated individuals, groups of persons, organization or association,” according to ATC Resolution 41 signed by National Security Adviser Eduardo Año and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director Ricardo de Leon.
Sources said the activists had not received any summons to appear before the ATC. Members of the CPA learned about the resolution from an ATC statement published in the July 10 issue of the Manila Times.
On Tuesday, activist and indigenous peoples groups demanded that the ATC retract the resolution, calling it an “escalation of attacks” against indigenous rights defenders.
“The designation list is a virtual hit list,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, noting that cases filed against the activists had been dismissed.
“We condemn the ATC for unjustly, arbitrarily and maliciously designating political activists as terrorist individuals and endangering their lives, safety and security in the process,” Palabay said.
In a June 19 petition, Bolinget, Alikes, Tauli and 21 other Cordillera activists asked the Supreme Court to review the rejection of the Court of Appeals (CA) last year of their writ of amparo petition, saying they continue to face abuse, harassment and threats to their families’ safety which were allegedly committed by government and military personnel.
The initial writ petition was turned down by the Former 17th Division of the CA on Oct. 24, 2022, which ruled that the activists failed to identify the people who were behind the harassment and were unable to present sufficient evidence that the government was behind these threats.
But in the Supreme Court petition filed by lawyer Francisca Macliing Claver, the activists argued that red-tagging and other forms of abuses were “well-planned schemes targeting activists in order to silence legitimate dissent.”
The petition cited details of surveillance, hate speeches and other forms of harassment suffered by Bolinget, Alikes and the other activists, such as being declared persona non grata (unwelcome) in some Cordillera communities.
Tauli was abducted on Aug. 20 last year in Tabuk City in Kalinga province and was reportedly beaten up and interrogated while being driven around the city for hours. Tauli was released and managed to reach the CPA office on Aug. 21, 2022, after he was forced to read on video a written admission of his supposed rebel background.
The Supreme Court petition said many of the activists were subjected to false criminal charges and were exonerated.
Awingan, Bolinget, Alikes, and Tauli were implicated in an Abra rebellion case that arose from the Oct. 27, 2022, ambush of soldiers in Malibcong town. The charges were dismissed in May this year.
Bolinget was acquitted of a murder charge filed by the Davao del Norte police in 2021 and had since filed for civil damages from the people behind the “trumped-up” case.
He and Molintas were included in the Department of Justice proscription case which would have designated them and 600 others as terrorists. The list also included Tauli’s sister, former UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
They were eventually delisted, and the lawsuit was dismissed by a Manila court last year.