Cordillera Administrative Region

Cordillera activists face asset freeze as ATC labels them as terrorists

Sherwin de Vera

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Cordillera activists face asset freeze as ATC labels them as terrorists

DECRY. Students rally in Baguio City to decry the red-tagging practice and criminalization of dissent as key human rights issues during the 50th Martial Law anniversary in 2022.

Sherwin De Vera/Rappler

'While we at CPA continue to seek legal remedies... in this shrinking democratic space, the state also weaponizes everything at its disposal to silence us,' says the Cordillera Peoples Alliance

BAGUIO, Philippines – Four Cordillera activists are now at risk of having their properties frozen, following their designation as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), a month after a court threw out a rebellion case filed against them and several others for lack of evidence.

An ATC press release on July 10 identified Windel Bolinget, Stephen Tauli, Jennifer Awingan-Taggaoa, and Sarah Abellon-Alikes as leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA).

Bolinget is the chairperson of CPA; Tauli is a member of its regional council; Awingan-Taggaoa serves as its research officer; and Abellon-Alikes is one of the group’s pioneers. 

The designation comes after the Abra court had excluded them, along with three other activists, from a rebellion case over a month ago.

The ATC alleged that the four activists are members of the Ilocos Cordillera Regional White Area Committee and the Cordillera White Area Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

The council said their designation under ATC Resolution No. 41, approved on June 7, was “based on verified and validated information, sworn statements, and other pieces of evidence gathered by Philippine law enforcement agencies.” 

ATC has accused Abellon-Alikes and Bolinget of allegedly violating Sections 10 and 12 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which pertain to recruitment and membership in a terrorist organization, as well as providing material support to such organization. The ATC also alleged that Awingan-Taggaoa and Tauli violated Section 10 of the ATA.

The ATA list also includes Jovencio Tangbawan, who allegedly serves as the commander of the NPA’s Agustin Begnalen Command in Abra, and May Vargas-Casilao, another alleged high-ranking communist rebel leader.

The council has so far designated 32 people as terrorists for their alleged connection with CPP-NPA-NDF, which it considers as a terrorist organization. 

‘ATA targets activists’

In a July 10 statement, the CPA condemned the designation of four of its leaders as terrorists, calling it one of the “relentless attacks against indigenous peoples’ activists” in the Cordillera region. 

“While we at CPA continue to seek legal remedies to ensure our safety, security, and human rights in this shrinking democratic space, the state also weaponizes everything at its disposal to silence us,” read part of the CTA statement.

The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) also condemned the labeling of the activists as terrorists and called on the government to remove their names from that list.

Bolinget, incidentally, is a member of the international coordinating committee of the IPMSDL network.

“Indigenous peoples’ proactive defense of their ancestral lands, life, rights, and territories are never acts of terrorism but a vibrant exercise of their right to self-determination. Their vocal expression of dissent and democratic freedoms to criticize any powers that be must be ensured and protected, not silenced, criminalized, vilified and further marginalized,” the IPMSDL said. 

Bolinget said the recent ATC resolution designating them as terrorists only showed how people in government use the ATA to target activists and government critics. 

He added, “It is a government tool, a last resort when their systematic legal harassment fails to silence activists and the democratic mass movement.” 

Bolinget and Abellon-Alikes have faced criminal charges filed by state forces even before being implicated in the recently quashed rebellion case.

Bolinget had been included in a murder case in Davao del Norte, but a court in Tagum City dismissed it in July 2021 for lack of probable cause. Following his lawyer’s advice, he recently sued several police officials involved in the case for damages.

Meanwhile, for Abellon-Alikes, the quashing of the arrest warrant against her for rebellion last May was her fifth legal victory since 2017.

On May 11, a regional court in Abra granted the motion to dismiss rebellion charges that had been filed by the military against a community journalist and six other activists and development workers in the Cordillera and Ilocos regions.

In his decision, Judge Corpuz Alzate said Awingan, Abellon-Alikes, Tauli, Bolinget, Lucia Lourdes Gimenes, Nino Joseph Oconer, and Florence Kang were never identified, rendering the case against them baseless. The judge then ordered the quashing of all warrants issued against the seven.

Oconer works as a correspondent for Ilocos of Northern Dispatch, while Florence Kang is a development worker. Meanwhile, Lucia Lourdes Gimenez is an activist advocating for peasant rights. – Rappler.com

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