CSOs call for urgent review and repeal of ATL 

July 5, 2023

The Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) calls for an urgent review of the Anti-Terrorism Act or Republic Act No. 11479 in the light of mounting evidence that the law is being weaponized against rights defenders.

“It’s been three years since the legislation of the Anti-Terrorism Act signed into law on July 3, 2020. The government said that the law targets terrorists such as the ISIL (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf fighters in southern Philippines. However, it is being used against human rights defenders, activists and development workers advocating for fundamental political and economic reforms”, says CPDG Spokesperson Liza Maza. 

Civil society groups and even individuals are baselessly designated as terrorists for allegedly supporting the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed group, the New People’s Army (NPA). Vilification and red-tagging leads to incarceration on trumped up charges or, at worst, extra-judicial killings (EJK) is escalating. Bank accounts are frozen. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict is at the forefront of attacks on individuals and organizations critical of profit-biased government policies and asserting their civil and political rights as well as the people’s right to development.

Atty. Josalee Deinla, Secretary General of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) says “There is now a good amount of evidence that the Anti-Terrorism Law is being used to attack human rights defenders and development workers and used to silence dissent and legitimate people’s demands.” 

In 2021, the Supreme Court junked the call of 37 petitions to declare the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) unconstitutional for lack of evidence that the law threatens rights defenders.

Mounting evidence

Civil society organizations (CSOs) like the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan), United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) – Haran Center, Community Based Health Services, Archdiocesan Health Apostolate, Mindanao Resource Center; Mindanao Farmers’ Resource – NMR, Mindanao Farmers Resource Center, Inc., Amihan-NMR Inc., Bread Emergency Assistance and Development, Inc. found their bank accounts frozen on orders from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) in 2021. 

Amihan and the UCCP were openly red-tagged by the NTF-ELCAC prior to the freezing of their accounts. Amihan advocates for the repeal of the Rice Tariffication Law because of its adverse impact on rice farmers’ livelihoods and the well-being of their families. It leads the rice price watchdog group Bantay Bigas.

The freezing of Amihan’s bank accounts affected their development work. They were unable to receive donations for more than two years which prevented them from giving out farm seeds and tools for their chapters practicing collective farming. Likewise, the distribution of school supplies for the children of their members was adversely affected. “Apektado ang suporta para sa pamamahagi ng farm seeds at farm tools sa mga chapters ng Amihan na naglulunsad ng collective farming. Ang yearly pamamahagi ng school supplies sa mga anak ng leaders at members ng organisasyon ay talagang naapektuhan”, say Amihan Secretary General Catherine “Ka Cathy” Estavillo. 

Not only were their bank accounts suspended but Amihan’s website and social media accounts were also blocked, according to Estavillo. 

Consultants in the peace talks between the NDF and the Philippine government who were arrested on the basis of trumped-up charges also found their bank accounts frozen after the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) designated them as terrorists. Their family members decried this act by the government saying the money they have in banks are either savings from decades of dedicated work as development workers in NGOs, or compensation received from being victims of human rights violations during the dark years of Martial Law under then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

Such is the case of jailed peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre whose bank accounts have been frozen in accordance with ATC Resolution 17 and AMLC Resolution TF-40 (2021) issued in May 2021. Casambre was arrested for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, on the basis of planted evidence, together with his wife Cora last December 2018. Casambre’s daughter, Xandra Bisenio said the savings were modest and did not deserve suspicion and freezing. “These were no more than accumulated savings from my father Rey’s allowances as Executive Director of the Philippine Peace Center and my mother Cora’s income as researcher-translator,” said Bisenio.

Two youth development workers have been charged with providing material support to the NPA – Anakbayan Southern Tagalog Regional Coordinator Ken Rementilla and Jazmin Rubia, Secretary General of the Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights (MCPHR). Tanggol Batangan’s paralegal worker Hayley Pecayo in turn has been accused by state forces of being an NPA fighter.

Human rights group Karapatan said these baseless accusations were made after Rubia, Rementilla and Pecayo joined a fact-finding mission in July 2022 to investigate the killing of 9-year-old Kyllene Casao in Taysan, Batangas allegedly by elements of the 59th Infantry Battalion (IB) on July 18, 2022. Karapatan says Rementilla and Rubia were the 10th and 11th victims of the Philippine government’s Anti-Terrorism Law in the Southern Tagalog Region alone.

The ATL was also used to block the websites of 27 progressive organizations including the media.

Meanwhile, indigenous peoples’ (IP) and Bangsamoro groups say the ATL has emboldened state security agents to violate their human rights. Indiscriminate bombings in IP and Bangsamoro communities have led to massive displacements and disruption of livelihoods. “The ATL disregards the Philippines’ international commitments including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),” says Beverly Longid of the Indigenous People’s Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) and undermines the Indigenous and Moro Peoples rights to self-determination and development.” Article 1 of the UNDRIP explicitly states that “Indigenous Peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international human rights law.” The NTF-ELCAC has red-tagged Longid herself along with several other IP leaders as terrorists.

Other rights violations continue including enforced disappearances despite the legislation of the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012 or Anti-Desaparecido Act (Republic Act 10353). Under Pres. Marcos Jr.’s governance, eight persons have already been reported as victims of enforced disappearance. 

The gruesome killing of the Fausto family happened just recently on 14 June 2023. Emilda and Billy Fausto were members of the Baclayan, Bitio, Cabagal Farmworkers Association (BABICAFA). The military subsequently arrested Susan Medes, the farmer leader of BABICAFA just days after the Fausto killing. There have been at least 60 extrajudicial killings since Pres. Marcos Jr. came to power. There are also now 778 political prisoners including 49 arrested under the Marcos Jr. administration. 

“We remind Pres. Marcos Jr. of his promise to respect human rights and vow to ensure a high level of accountability. This will only be realized if the President will heed the calls of the people for just peace, revoke E.O. No. 70 and R.A. 11479, and implement human rights-based and people-centered development policies,” said Maza.###

Featured photo: CTTO sourced from https://the-post-assets.sgp1.digitaloceanspaces.com/2021/12/JUNK-TERROR-LAW.jpg)