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Philippine group urges international intervention amid ‘escalating use’ of anti-terror law against activists

Human rights group Karapatan has raised alarms over “the escalating use” of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 against activists, indigenous peoples, and environmental defenders in the Philippines.

The organization expressed its concerns during a meeting with Ms. Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, on Jan. 26  

In the meeting, activists and journalists discussed with Khan the issues of terrorist designation, red-tagging, and other threats and violations.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the group, said the recent terrorist designation of four Cordillera human rights defenders and charges filed against two women environmental defenders in Southern Tagalog, under the Anti-Terrorism Act, establish a perilous precedent for repression and rights violations.

“The wrongful terrorist designation has the ultimate motives of silencing the Cordillera activists and infringing on the indigenous people and peasants’ right to their land and freedoms,” said Palabay.

In a resolution dated June 7, 2023, and published on July 10, 2023, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) named Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) chairperson Windel Bolinget and CPA leaders Jennifer Awingan, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, and Stephen Tauli, together with Jovencio Tangbawan and May Casilao as “terrorist individuals”.

In 2018, Bolinget was included in a “proscription list” of more than 600 individuals who are allegedly officers or members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA). His name was later removed.  

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Tauli was abducted outside the CPA office in Baguio on August 20, 2022, by alleged elements of the government’s armed forces. He was found the next day.

Meanwhile, Awingan was arrested on rebellion charges on January 30, 2022, and was released after eight days. In February 2017, Abellon-Alikes was arrested on arson and robbery charges. She was released on bail after two days in jail. Cases against her were dismissed.

The hearing on the petition challenging their designation was reset in a Baguio court today, where they also met with UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan.

In the Southern Tagalog region, 15 activists were “maliciously charged” under the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act including United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Glofie Baluntong, United Church of Christ of the Philippines pastor Rev. Edwin Egar, Kenneth Rementilla, and Jasmin Rubia.

The UN experts’ communication to the Philippine government, made public on January 25, expressed serious concerns over the arbitrary arrest and detention of Southern Tagalog-based women environmental human rights defenders Miguela Peniero and Rowena Dasig. 

The experts highlighted falsified allegations against them as they carried out peaceful and legitimate human rights activities related to a proposed gas-turbine project and natural gas terminal plant in Atimonan, Quezon Province.

Karapatan revealed that there are at least 27 political prisoners facing charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act. At least 51 individuals face trumped-up charges under related legislation.

“The use of the terror law to suppress dissent is in full swing under Marcos Jr., and we can only brace for more unless it is repealed,” said Palabay. 

“The Supreme Court’s recently released guidelines do not cure the main defects of the law in terms of human rights protection. We reiterate our call for the repeal of RA 10168 and RA 11479,” she added. 

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