PH council designates CPP-NPA as terrorists

And so it begins.

The Philippines' Anti-Terrorism Council has designated the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples' Army (CPP-NPA) as a terror group.

"The ATC (Anti-Terrorism Council)...finds probable cause that the CPP/NPA committed or conspired to commit the acts defined and penalized under Section 4 of the Anti-Terror Act and hereby designates the CPP/NPA as terrorist organizations, associations or groups of persons," the ATC said in a resolution dated December 9, but only published on the ATC's website on December 21.

Rappler was alerted to it on Friday, December 25.

The designation means that even if the government has not yet successfully proscribed the CPP-NPA as terrorists, it now has the power to pursue a freezing of assets.

Designation under Section 25 of the anti-terror law is a a power distinct from the court process of proscription, and requires only the approval of the council which consists of Cabinet secretaries.

Under Section 25, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has the power to freeze assets.

But whose assets? Which groups, and which individuals?

The ATC in its resolution cited the Department of Justice (DOJ)'s proscription case to declare the CPP-NPA as terrorists. It is still pending.

"Whereas, filing of the said petition by the National Prosecution Service, DOJ clearly established the existence of probable cause that the CPP/NPA committed, or attempted to commit, or conspired in the commission of the acts defined and penalized by the ATA," said the resolution.

This is the same proscription case that the DOJ itself withdrew names from, as it initially included 600 people, including a special rapporteur and 3 activists – Randall Echanis, Zara Alvarez, and Randy Malayao – who are now dead.

After the DOJ's withdrawal of names, and the court's own action of trimming some more names, only exiled CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison and alleged Mindanao Commission Secretary Antonio Cabanatan remain on that case.

But amid a strengthening crackdown that has sent dozens of activists to jail in the past year, it raises the fear that activists accused by the government as communists would be more vulnerable than they are now.

Would the activists be at risk of arrest? Rappler has sent questions to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and will update this story once he responds.

But in an earlier interview, Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said designation is "really more for purposes of going after assets" and not arrest.

Petitions filed with the Supreme Court argue that because of the anti-terror law's language, people accused as members of the designated terrorist group can be perpetually arrested without warrant.

"Alam mo magandang tanong 'yan eh (You know, that's a good question).... It could be, it could lead to that," Sugay said then.

Guevarra is part of the council, and the DOJ crafted the law's implementing rules and regulations.

Because the government, especially the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC, brazenly accuses people as communists without evidence, how can the ATC assure that designation won't be used to jail activists?

"I think the process should be more thorough and deliberate, so I'd like to think it would go through the process, and I would like to think that the Anti-Terrorism Council would be, for lack of a better term...a little more careful in making its designation," Sugay had said.

The answers so far indicate that at this point, activists would just have to rely on good faith.

Even before the passing of the anti-terror law, the government had already frozen the assets of a group of nuns, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, whom they accused of financing terrorism under Republic Act No. 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act.

The 37 petitions challenging the anti-terror law's constitutionality are scheduled for oral arguments at the Supreme Court on January 19, 2021. – 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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