Manila court clears 4 in DOJ’s terror tag request

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19 cleared Satur Ocampo, Rafael Baylosis, Jose Melencio Molintas, and United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz from the government petition seeking to declare them and hundreds of others as terrorists.

But Branch 19 Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar will proceed with the main content of the petition that seeks to declare the organization Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) a terror group, according to a 14-page resolution dated July 27.

The 4 who were cleared were among the 649 names that the Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted to the court as alleged members or leaders of the CPP-NPA who should be declared as terrorists alongside the organization itself.

The DOJ petition was submitted under former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. Current Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on August 6 that the DOJ did not verify the connections of the individuals to the CPP-NPA.

Molintas and Corpuz

Molintas was identified by the DOJ as alleged officer of the Ilocos Cordillera Regional Committee (ICRC) of the NPA. Molintas told the court he is a member of the Ibaloi Tribe of Benguet, and a human rights and Indigenous Peoples (IP) rights advocate.

Corpuz is the first woman and indigenous person from the Philippines to hold the post of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Molintas and Corpuz told the court that the government's request to tag them as terrorists put their life and liberty in danger.

The court cleared them because “there is nothing in the petition or its attachments that point to Molintas and Corpuz being officers or representatives of the CPP-NPA.”

Ocampo and Baylosis

Ocampo and Baylosis are one of the more prominent names on the list, being known activists in the country.

Ocampo is being hunted along with other Left leaders because of a recently-issued warrant of arrest for murders 10 years ago. Baylosis is in jail after he was arrested for illegal gun possession. He was the first communist to be rearrested after the cancellation of peace talks in 2017.

They firmly denied being officers, members, or representatives of the CPP-NPA.

“Ocampo and Baylosis had done more than give notice of severance of their association with the CPP-NPA; they had denied being actually members or officers of said respondent organizations,” the court said.

The court therefore declared that Ocampo and Baylosis cannot be considered “party respondents in the petition.”

In a statement, National Union of Peoples' Lawyers or NUPL's Edre Olalia said: "Similar rulings must apply to all the rest of 600++ who will decide to contest the inclusion of their individual names after publication."

Petition vs CPP-NPA moves on

But it fell short of what Ocampo and Baylosis wanted. The two men filed a motion to dismiss to have the entire petition junked.

Because the CPP-NPA has no known address, the DOJ provided the addresses of Ocampo, Baylosis, and others for the service of summons.

Ocampo and Baylosis then used the supposed defective service of summons on them to have the petition dismissed.

But Judge Malagar instead offered the DOJ a remedy to keep its petition against the CPP-NPA alive.

“Under the present circumstances where the petition is filed against a known entity but with an unknown address, the most prudent course of action would be to effect service of summons by publication,” the court said.

On this issue, Olalia said the court must soon clear the rest of the individuals fearing that their names might be published on the newspaper when the DOJ heeds this call. 

Ocampo and Baylosis also attempted to argue that the supposed evidence against the CPP-NPA are just speculations, such as allegations of extortion and murder.

“The court, at this point, considers said concerns as pertaining to evidentiary matters which may be squarely addressed by the petitioner in the course of trial…the court confines itself to the allegations in the petition which it finds sufficient for now,” the court said.

The Manila court recently allowed rearrested CPP-NDF leaders to fly to the Netherlands for the peace talks, but the talks were postponed pending a new schedule.

'Vindication'

A new statement from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) meanwhile called the dropping of the Baylosis, Corpuz, Molintas, and Ocampo from the terrorist proscription case a "vindication of our position that they are not terrorists nor involved in any terrorist act."

Despite this, the tagging of the 4 as terrorists "has already put their lives and security at risk."

"Their public vilification through the filing of the case has also cast aspersion upon their characters and besmirched their reputations," the statement said.

The PILC added, "In the absence of any evidence against them, the DOJ should just withdraw the petition for proscription." Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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