BAGUIO CITY — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has removed about 600 individuals and groups from a list of “terrorists” in a petition it filed last year to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), as “terrorist and outlawed organizations.”
In an amended petition it submitted to the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19 on Jan. 3, the DOJ kept on its terrorist list CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison, alleged NPA National Operations Command chief Jorge Madlos, alleged NPA southern Luzon commander Jaime Padilla and alleged CPP Visayas Commission head Francisco Fernandez.ADVERTISEMENT
Also included on the much shorter list were alleged Visayas CPP deputy secretary Cleofe Lagtapon, alleged CPP Mindanao Commission secretary Antonio Cabanatan and alleged Mindanao NPA leaders Leonido Nabong and Myrna Sularte.
Among those removed from the original Feb. 21, 2017, DOJ proscription petition were Joan Carling, who was bestowed the title 2018 Champion of the Earth by the UN Environment Program, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and five Baguio-based activists, including Jeanette Ribaya-Cawiding.
Cawiding, former chair of urban poor group Tongtongan ti Umili and a coordinator for the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), said the amended petition only removed the immediate danger of being tagged as terrorists.
“This is a partial victory, but we cannot let our guard down,” Cawiding said.
Government spying on political groups and nongovernment organizations remained a threat to free speech and the assertion of human rights, she said.
She cited the profiling of ACT members by the police, which was justified by the December 2018 Executive Order No. 70 that created, among other things, a national security task force to end the 50-year-old communist insurgency.
The DOJ petition followed President Duterte’s move to clamp down on leftist groups after he terminated the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in November 2017.
It was also in accordance with the Human Security Act of 2007 (Republic Act No. 9372), which requires a court order to declare the CPP and the NPA as terrorists.ADVERTISEMENT
If the court grants the petition, the government could monitor people and groups more closely, track their finances and restrict their access to resources.
UN appeal to Duterte
The United Nations had defended Carling and Corpuz and called on the Duterte administration to drop them from the list.
Corpuz chaired the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues before she was appointed special rapporteur in 2014, a post she was to hold until 2020.
The Manila RTC has already ordered the DOJ to remove Corpuz and former Baguio Councilor Jose Molintas from its list.
Windel Bolinget, another Baguio activist who was on the DOJ list, said the government wanted the proscription of the CPP and the NPA “as soon as possible.”
“Once the court issues that order, the government could once more link people they suspect as [members of] front organizations of the communist rebellion. This is the danger,” said Bolinget, chair of the indigenous peoples rights group, Cordillera Peoples Alliance.
Sherwin de Vera, a regional coordinator for environmental group Defend Ilocos and a provincial journalist, was also removed from the list.
But Bishop Vermilon Tagalog of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, chair of the group’s regional coordinating committee, said he still feared for De Vera’s safety.
“The mere existence of the DOJ petition remains a clear threat because of the continued communist-tagging of activists and progressive organizations by President Duterte,” Tagalog added. — WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH