A Manila court has dismissed the proscription case seeking to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist groups.
In a 135-page resolution penned by Presiding Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 said a perusal of the CPP-NPA’s program shows that it is organized not for the purpose of engaging in terrorism.
“[W]hile ‘armed struggle’ with the ‘violence’ that necessarily accompanies it, is indubitably the approved ‘means’ to achieve the CPP-NPA’s purpose, ‘means’ is not synonymous with ‘purpose’,” the court said in the resolution dated September 21, 2022.
“Stated otherwise, ‘armed struggle' is only a ‘means’ to achieve the CPP’s purpose; it is not the ‘purpose’ of the creation of the CPP,” it added.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the proscription case in 2018 seeking to declare the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group under Section 17 of the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007.
Citing the HSA, the court defined terrorism as the commission of certain acts, “thereby sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.”
In an ambush interview, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said the DOJ will file a motion for reconsideration.
“Well, we’ll file a motion for reconsideration. Then, if we have to, we’ll go to the Court of Appeals,” Remulla said.
“Alam niyo naman, it’s something that the state has to take care of when people are attacking the state. At kailangan nating kumilos and we use the law for this purpose. And we will obey the law whatever the case may be,” he added.
(As you know, it's something that the state has to take care of when people are attacking the state. And we need to take action and we use the law for this purpose. And we will obey the law whatever the case may be.)
When asked about the Court’s distinction between rebellion and terrorism, Remulla said it was too early to judge on his own.
For her part, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the Manila court's ruling “is clearly not final and does not warrant a comment for now.”
Meanwhile, National Security Council deputy director general Michael Eric Castillo and Armed Forces spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar said they cannot give a comment because they have yet to receive a copy of the resolution.
“The decision of the lower court is appealable so relevant officials and offices must first meet to discuss the court ruling and decide on the next steps to be pursued,” Castillo told GMA News Online in a message.
Meanwhile, the court listed nine incidents in Agusan Del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Misamis Oriental, and Cagayan de Oro City that the defense alleged to be committed by the CPP-NPA against civilians.
However, it said it cannot give credence to the witnesses’ identification as they described the suspects to be wearing an “all-black ensemble” with high-powered firearms.
“This identification leaves much to be desired. Certainly, it takes more than a certain manner or mode of dressing to establish that one is a member of the CPP-NPA,” it said.
“Moreover, this identification is not exclusive, particularly in Mindanao where all the nine incidents have occurred. Mindanao is known as a place teeming with other rebel armed groups – the MNLF, MILF, Abu Sayyaf Group, Maute Group, and a scattering of brigands who may also be known to carry firearms.”
The court said the nine incidents can only qualify as rebellion, adding that none of it can be said to have caused “widespread and extraordinary fear and panic” among the Philippine populace and can be characterized as “pocket and sporadic occurrences.”
It also pointed out that said the nine incidents also are not “widespread” enough to “coerce” the government to give in to any demand.
The court cited a previous ruling that found that terrorism is larger in scope than rebellion, and that rebellion is only one of the various means by which terrorism can be committed.
It also said that the counsel’s defense that the attacks are done to push forward peace negotiations where the CPP-NPA may demand the release of their high-ranking members and allow them to regroup is not supported by evidence.
According to the Court, the CPP-NPA’s chosen battle strategy, guerrilla warfare, is also not synonymous with terrorism.
Meanwhile, it said that other incidents of atrocities testified by the witnesses cannot be considered terrorist incidents under the HSA.
The court also stressed the danger of red-tagging, saying that while a CPP-NPA member may be a member of underground organizations (UGMO) or above-ground organizations (NDMOs), this is not true for all members of NDMOs who may think they joined an activist organization.
“Members of NDMOs espouse valid societal change, without necessarily giving thought to ‘armed struggle’ or ‘violence’ aimed at overthrowing the government, as a means to achieve the same,” it said.
“To automatically lump activists, mostly members of the above-ground organizations as members of the CPP-NPA invariably constitute red-tagging,” the court added.
The court further said that the petition named around 600 personalities, mostly known activists and members of various non-governmental organizations as being members of the CPP-NPA.
“The framers of ATA (Anti-Terrorism Act) 2020, particularly Section 4 thereof have taken pains to expressly exclude, from the definition of ‘terrorism’ – acts of advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm,” it said.
'Terrorist' tag wrong
Meanwhile, echoing the resolution, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said that terrorist labeling will not end armed conflict.
“The key takeaway in the Manila RTC decision to junk the terrorist-labeling vs the CPP and NPA is that those taking up arms based on a political cause are not terrorists and that armed conflict is rooted in social ills,” he said.
“We have said it before, labeling revolutionaries and those engaged in peace negotiations as ‘terrorists’ is wrong, counter-productive, and undermines any possibility of a political settlement in the armed conflict,” he later added.
Reyes urged the government “abandon the policy of terrorist labeling” and pursue peace negotiations.
“The Philippine government should pursue a policy of peace negotiations that address the social basis of the conflict in order to achieve a just and lasting peace,” he said. — with Joviland Rita/KBK/RSJ, GMA News