This undated photo shows Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
PRIB/Alberto Calvelo, File photo
Declaration of communist rebels as terrorists up to court, not Duterte — Lacson
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - July 9, 2020 - 5:08pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said that President Rodrigo Duterte's "declaration" of communist rebels as terrorists is still up for court approval.

Lacson, author and sponsor at the Senate of the controversial anti-terrorism law said that "the 'declaration' is a personal opinion of the president, not official."

"Under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, only the Court of Appeals can order the proscription — not the Anti-Terrorism Council, nor the President. Further, the burden of proof lies with the Department of Justice. Even membership in a proscribed terrorist group goes through the same due process which the DOJ has to prove," Lacson said.

The proscription of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People's Army was previously up for approval at the Manila Trial Court but, under the newly passed anti-terror law, that falls to the appeals court.

Designation, however, Lacson clarified, falls under the Anti-Terrorism Council which consists of members appointed by the president. He added that designation "does not involve arrest and detention," but is for the purpose of freezing accounts and assets.

The ATC's designations, according to the senator, must also follow United Nations Security Council's guidelines.

He further emphasized that it is only once an individual or group is proscribed as a terrorist body that arrests and detention can be made which must still follow due notice, hearing, and approval by the CA.

However, critics have pointed out that Section 29 of the anti-terrorism law flies in the face of the safeguards touted by Lacson, as it allows warrantless arrest and detention without charges for up to 24 days.

Legal challenges to the Anti-Terrorism Act

In less than a week since the Palace announced the signing of the law, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 faces at least six challenges to its constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

Most recently, luminaries behind the 1987 Constitution asked the SC to strike down provisions of in the act as unconstitutional for putting at risk the rights of the people.

Christian Monsod and Felicitas Arroyo, Framers of the Constitution petitioned the SC to strike down sections of the law that define terrorism and secondary offenses, that empowers the ATC to designate suspected terrorists and that allows prolonged detention without judicial charge.

RELATED: SC orders government: Answer legal challenges vs anti-terrorism law

“There is no doubt that RA 11479 imperils the constitutional rights of our citizens. Its provisions are a lure to abuse and misuse, a magnet to power-wielding and vindictive government officials; as well as to lackeys who have no other intent but to please the powers-to-be,” their petition read.


The petitioners also recalled how military officials, in particular, engaged in red-tagging in 2018 when the Armed Forces of the Philippines accused 18 universities and schools of being grounds of recruitment for the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

“The blanket red-tagging of schools by the AFP in 2018 can be used as a justification to arrest and detain any person affiliated to such schools because the ATA allows the arrest and detention of persons merely suspected of committing the unidentified acts of terrorism,” the petition further read.

RELATED: Lawmaker files complaint at Ombudsman over general's 'red-tagging'

The Human Rights Watch in June pointed out several alleged violations made by the existing National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the government’s main intelligence body, which would be directly run by the Anti-Terror Council’s secretariat under the draft bill.

The rights group said NICA has a history of "carrying out a long-running surveillance, harassment, and suppression [campaigns] against activists and groups that operate openly and legally."

The group referenced a UN Human Rights Office in Geneva report released on June 4 which said "248 activists have been killed between 2015 and 2019 in relation to their work."

HRW added that the military, the police, and their inter-agency forms such as NICA and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict frequently accuse activist groups of "being front organizations, members, or supporters of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines."— with reports from Kristine Joy Patag

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