File photo by Orlando Sierra/AFP
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government's petition to have hundreds of people legally tagged as terrorists is a "virtual government hit list," New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday, March 9.
Carlos Conde of HRW’s Asia Division made the statement in response to the Department of Justice (DOJ) petition before a Manila court to declare as "terrorists" 649 people under the Human Security Act. (READ: PH seeks terrorist tag for Joma Sison, 648 others)
“The Justice Department petition is a virtual government hit list,” Conde said.
The list includes alleged leaders and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), and even Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
"The Philippine government is putting at grave risk more than 600 people – among them a United Nations human rights expert and dozens of leftist activists – by labeling them as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA)," Conde said
“There’s a long history in the Philippines of the state security forces and pro-government militias assassinating people labeled as NPA members or supporters,” he added.
The list also includes former lawmaker Satur Ocampo and consultants of the National Democratic Front in peace talks with the government. The petition was filed months after the government terminated its peace negotiations with communist rebels. (READ: The end of the affair? Duterte’s romance with the Reds)
“The Duterte administration should publicly reject this petition and ensure the safety of those listed in it – or risk being complicit in the resulting crimes,” Conde said.
Prelude to 'human rights violations'
Human rights group Karapatan slammed the move.
“On the whole, DOJ’s proscription petition is dubious and a maneuver meant to harass, target and criminalize persons in progressive organizations. We should oppose this and other tyrannical acts that brand legitimate dissent and activism as ‘terrorism,’” said Karapatan secretary-general Tinay Palabay.
“What should be addressed instead is Duterte’s brand of state terrorism, which has victimized thousands. Indeed, shouldn't Duterte be branded instead as the number 1 terrorist?” she added.
Palabay said the petition was apparently filed "to sow fear and panic among Duterte's detractors, subjectively prepare the public for more intense political repression, and be the front act of a crackdown against the dictator wannabe's critics."
“Not only do such lists incite human rights violations, they also legitimize and make "normal" to the public the government's abuse of power in suppressing dissent and decimating the supposed 'enemies of the state,'” she said.
Palabay also noted that the list includes "human rights defenders who have been in the forefront of defending and protecting human and people’s rights," and cited, among others, Elisa Tita Lubi, Karapatan National Executive Committee member and former interim Regional Coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).
She added the list is “severely defective as it contains scores of aliases (aka), John and Jane Does so any person can be added later."
'Act of retaliation'
United Nations (UN) rights experts expressed shock and grave concern over the inclusion of Corpuz in the list.
In a statement on Thursday, March 8, UN special rapporteurs Michel Forst and Catalina Devandas Aguilar called the move as “an act of retaliation” over Corpuz’s statements on issues concerning indigenous peoples.
“We are shocked that the special rapporteur is being targeted because of her work defending the rights of indigenous peoples,” they said.
“The attack against the special rapporteur is taking place in the context of widespread extrajudicial executions and ongoing attacks against voices who are critical of the current government, including human rights defenders,” they added.
Corpuz was appointed as UN expert in 2014 and served as former chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She was listed in the petition as an alleged member of the Ilocos-Cordillera Regional Committee (ICRC).
Forst and Aguilar reminded the Philippine government of its obligation to protect and respect the role of UN independent experts. They added that under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN of 1946, experts “have immunity from legal proceedings.” (READ: What are the roles of United Nations special rapporteurs?)
“Corpuz is a human rights defender,” the experts said. “Therefore, the government of the Philippines has a duty under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to guarantee her right to promote and to strive for the realization of human rights.”
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.