Philippine anti-terrorism law

They visited friends in jail, the state called them terrorists

Jairo Bolledo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

They visited friends in jail, the state called them terrorists

Photos by Paul Tagle, Fritz Labiano

'It's really alarming that the state considers providing help to detained political prisoners as an act of terrorism,' says Fritz Labiano, one of two activists who faced terrorism charges for assisting detained activists

In February this year, 23-year-old Fritz Labiano and 21-year-old Adrian Paul Tagle received a resolution that turned their lives upside down. The Department of Justice (DOJ) had indicted the two young activists for terror financing.

The indictment came as a shock because they never received any summons. This process is important because it notifies them about the complaint filed against them, allowing them to defend and explain themselves through affidavits that they will submit to the DOJ before prosecutors can reach an indictment.

It turned out that they were sued not only for terror financing, but also for providing material support to terrorists under Section 12 of the feared anti-terror law, passed four years ago by the Duterte government at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The prosecutors pursued only the terrorism financing case.

The complaints were filed in October 2023 by the Philippine Army’s 85th Infantry Battalion. The reason? Because Labiano and Tagle visited fellow activists in jail, gave them food, and P500.

For the army, that amounted to a terrorism offense.

“It is an indication that the human rights situation under [President Ferdinand] Marcos Jr. remains as bleak as ever,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of rights group Karapatan.

Sued for doing human rights work

Labiano and Tagle were embroiled in this case when they responded to fellow activists in July 2023. Anakbayan Southern Tagalog and environmental defender Rowena Dasig and public health worker Miguela Piniero were arrested on July 12, 2023, by members of the Army’s 85th IB in Atimonan, Quezon. Dasig and Piniero were conducting community research to study the possible effects of the establishment of a power plant in Atimonan.

Labiano and Tagle, learning of their friends’ arrest, went to the Atimonan municipal police station to extend support, including paralegal work. Paralegal service is a standard practice among progressive groups to ensure that those who need legal assistance will have access to it, in the absence of a lawyer.

Aside from providing needs for their detained colleagues, the two also looked after the detainees’ psychological well-being. Labiano and Tagle said law enforcers subjected Dasig and Piniero to psychological torture while under custody.

Labiano and Tagle would find out months later that their work had gotten them indicted for terrorism financing.

“Both individuals were present at the Atimonan Municipal Police Station, where they collectively provided Piniero and Dasig with the amount of PhP500.00, chocolates, fruits, rice, biscuits, and water, thereby indicating a mutual agreement and collaboration in the execution of their unlawful activities,” the prosecutors’ resolution read.

Human rights advocates have long feared, and argued before the Supreme Court, that the vagueness of such laws could lead to arbitrary prosecution for doing simple activities like supporting fellow activists. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the anti-terror law almost in its entirety.

“It’s really alarming that state considers providing help to detained political prisoners as an act of terrorism,” Labiano said in Filipino.

They visited friends in jail, the state called them terrorists
When justice sides with the oppressed

The anti-terror law has been in effect for four years now, subjecting several young activists to prosecution under it.

Labiano and Tagle went to trial at the Batangas City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 7. But in an order dated June 5, Presiding Judge Aida Carrera Santos dismissed the case because the prosecution failed to submit additional evidence on time.

Judge Santos explained that the court ordered the prosecution to submit additional evidence in the case through an order dated April 1. The prosecution received the order on May 9, but they submitted the additional evidence only on May 20, which was beyond the five-day period. With that, Batangas City RTC Branch 7 outrightly dismissed the case.

“This just proved that I was not wrong for standing up against the law. This confirmed that I was right in calling for the junking of the anti-terror law…Until now, our call for the scrapping of the draconian law remains,” Labiano told Rappler.

“I got angry because they are criminalizing the act of providing paralegal service to the victims of human rights violations. What if they do this to other human rights as well? Human rights work is not terrorism,” Tagle said in Filipino.

The two young activists, who come from Calabarzon where progressive individuals are being jailed and killed, were the latest to win against the Duterte-time law. For the last years, progressive individuals and even simple civilians, were able to score victories against the draconian policy.

In late 2023, Hailey Pecayo, also a human rights worker based in Calabarzon, was cleared of the terrorism complaint filed against her. The prosecutor junked the complaints against Pecayo and other activists based on alleged violation of section 4(a) and 4(d) of Republic Act (RA) No. 11479 or the anti-terror law, section(c)(25)(IV) of RA No. 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity, and over attempted murder.

Activists Jasmin Rubia, secretary general of Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights, and Kenneth Rementilla, Anakbayan Southern Tagalog coordinator, were also cleared of an anti-terror law complaint due to lack of probable cause.

Two years earlier, in 2021, two Aetas secured legal victories against the anti-terror law. The Olongapo Regional Trial Court junked the first known anti-terror law case against Aetas Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, noting that it was a case of mistaken identities. Like Pecayo, the Aetas were accused of being members of the New People’s Army and were charged with alleged violation of the anti-terror law’s section 4. But the court sided with the Aetas, saying the witnesses against them made “blatant inconsistencies.”

“The dismissal of the cases was a slap on the face of the government because it showed that the anti-terror law should not have been implemented because it is being used against simple citizens like farmers and human rights workers, whose primary goal is to serve and live,” Tagle said.

Chilling effect

According to human rights and legal groups, the challenges faced by Labiano and Tagle have a chilling effect on the entire ecosystem of human rights workers in the country.

“For paralegals and human rights workers assisting those arrested or victims of human rights violations, the case of Fritz Jay Labiano and Adrian Paul Tagle sends a dangerous message that any act of human rights work, even for humanitarian reasons, is now criminalized through the terror laws. It is unjust, unreasonable, unacceptable,” said Palabay.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Ephraim Cortez said there was nothing unusual about acting as paralegals for detained activists.

“Terrorist financing as a crime should only be applied if the monetary and other support provided are intended for the purpose of committing a terror act. What Fritz did was to provide for the basic need of the two detention prisoners,” Cortez added.

Must Read

EXPLAINER: How new Supreme Court rules can remedy abuses of anti-terror law

EXPLAINER: How new Supreme Court rules can remedy abuses of anti-terror law

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde said the cases filed against the two young activists was “clearly an attempt” to discourage people from supporting those who are persecuted and targeted by law enforcers.

“They [foreign nations] should pressure the Philippine military…to stop the practice [of cracking down on human rights workers]. They should respect the right of accused individuals, activists or not, to receive help and support from those willing to give them,” Conde told Rappler.

For Labiano, the dismissal of their case is not only a legal victory, but also a way to preserve the value of human rights work in the Philippines. “It’s frightening that our case could have been a precedent for future cases if it was not dismissed.” –

Quotes were translated to English for brevity

1 comment

Sort by
  1. ET

    “It’s unfortunate that President Marcos Jr. allowed the oppressive laws of former President Duterte to continue. By doing so, he became complicit with the previous administration through negligence. Human rights workers must overcome their fears and hope for support from concerned local and foreign groups.”

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.