Baguio City

Baguio court hears first legal challenge against terrorist designation

Sherwin de Vera

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Baguio court hears first legal challenge against terrorist designation

COUNSEL. The petitioners conferring with their lawyers before the start of the hearing in Baguio City.

Sherwin De Vera/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Tension starts when a policeman records videos and takes photos of the activists and their lawyers after the court hearing

BAGUIO, Philippines – A Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Baguio City started on Thursday, December 14, hearings on the petition filed by four leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance who challenged their designation as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) and the freeze order on their assets by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

On November 23, Sarah Alikes, Windel B. Bolinget, Jennifer A. Taggaoa, and Stephen A. Tauli filed a special civil action, seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the ATC and AMLC from implementing a clause in Section 25 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (RA 11479) while the case is pending. The clause pertains to the “domestic designation of the ATC upon finding of probable cause.”

The petitioners are also seeking the declaration of the provision unconstitutional for infringing Sections 1 and 4 of Article III of the 1987 Constitution. These refer to the right to due process and freedom of speech and expression. 

Parade, Person, Protest
SUPPORT. Leaders of progressive groups in Baguio join petitioners and their lawyers to express support for their legal battle. Sherwin De Vera/Rappler

Judge Cecilia Dulay-Archog of RTC Branch 7 is presiding over the case, with the prayer for a preliminary injunction being the primary focus of the first hearing.

On June 7, the ATC issued Resolution No. 41, followed by AMLC’s Resolution No. TF-67-2023, dated June 30. The resolutions designated six individuals as “terrorists,” accusing them of being leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and freezing their assets, respectively

‘Immediate relief needed’

Ephraim Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said their clients have and continued to experience “adverse consequences impinging on the exercise of their civil and political rights.” 

“With legitimate concerns about their deteriorating situation, they urgently petition the Court to provide them injunctive reliefs,” said Cortez who along with lead counsel Jose Molintas argued for the petitioners during the hearing. 

The lawyers said their clients were deprived and continue to be denied their right to due process. 

The designation, they said, breached the petitioners’ rights to free expression, association, and privacy against electronic surveillance. 

They also said the designation has put the four activists at risk even as it continued to cause permanent damage, especially as to how the public perceives them. 

State lawyers led by Senior State Solicitor Katrina Atienza-Dato anchored their contention on the Supreme Court’s ruling that the assailed provision is constitutional. 

They asserted that the rights of the petitioners were not being violated, and there is a presumption of regularity in the ATC and AMLC’s action because authorities found probable cause against the petitioners. 

They also allayed security and privacy fears, explaining that electronic surveillance still requires ex parte proceedings, and the freezing of funds, properties, and related accounts is the only consequence of the designation. 

Dulay-Archog gave the parties until January 8 to submit their position papers on the petition for a Writ of Temporary Injunction. The court set the next hearing for January 26, 2024. 

Police surveillance

Shortly after the hearing, a policeman started recording videos and taking photos of the four activists and their lawyers. Despite requests to stop, he persisted, leading one of the petitioners to confront him. 

It was during this moment that they observed that the man, who was in plain clothes, had a firearm tucked in his jeans. Alarmed, they called the guards and police personnel who were inside the Justice Hall. 

The person, carrying a 9mm pistol, was later identified as Patrolman Maruel Baniwas Benito of the Intelligence Unit of the Baguio City Police Office. He claimed that he was acting under orders from his superior. 

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) Northern Luzon condemned what it called the “hostile and contemptuous assault against the legal and judicial system and processes.” 

“This act is not only an attack against the clients but likewise an insult and a direct assault against the lawyers and our very own judicial system and processes,” said Reynaldo Cortes, head of FLAG Northern Luzon.

FLAG and NUPL are among the lawyers’ groups assisting the petitioners. 

Meanwhile, NUPL’s Cortez said, “That he was taking pictures in full view of the petitioners and their counsel shows that he was making his presence felt.” 

“The purpose was obviously to send the message that they are watching. It was pure and simple harassment,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Baguio City Police Office (BCPO) denied the allegations of harassment. 

The presence of an off-duty officer in civilian clothes, which raised concerns among the activists’ supporters, was part of standard police procedures related to court duties, according to the BCPO. 

The local police also said the officer was not involved in the hearings concerning the CPA members and that his presence was routine, not intended as harassment. 

The BCPO also said it was committed to conducting a transparent and thorough investigation to ensure discipline and accountability. It condemned what it called baseless allegations that could undermine the integrity of the police force. with reports from Mia Magdalena Fokno/Rappler.com

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