Government panel designates National Democratic Front as terrorist group

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Government panel designates National Democratic Front as terrorist group
Undated file photo of members of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:53 p.m., July 20) — The Anti-Terrorism Council has designated the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as a terrorist organization, a move that sets the stage for the inclusion of individuals in a the panel's list of alleged terrorists.

In its Resolution Number 21, made public on Monday, the ATC said the NDFP “is the core and most consolidated group that provides support to the armed and organizational expansion of the [Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army].”

It added that NDFP members “continue to lure and/or recruit people to join the NPA, while the CPP itself admitted and maintained, through public media release as well as in CPP documents and revelations of former members, the direct and indispensable role of the NDF a.k.a. NDFP in its armed operations.”

The NDFP represents communist rebels in peace talks with the government. It also says on its website that it "[promotes] national unity for the revolutionary struggle", releases statements "on behalf of the revolutionary forces upon their authorization" and "conducts proto-diplomatic and relations work abroad" in support of the CPP-NPA.

The designation triggers the authority of the Anti-Money Laundering Council to look into and freeze assets of the group believed to be used to fund terrorism.

Proscription, which declares a group illegal, is a separate process done through the courts.

The ATC did not tag any individual as terrorist in its latest resolution issued following Section 45 of the Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which gives the council powers to designate personalities or groups upon finding of probable cause.

But the council noted that CPP founder Joma Sison and his wife Juliet De Lima-Sison linked the NDFP with the CPP and NPA, which the ATC designated as terrorist groups in December 2020.

Five months later, the ATC designated Sison and 18 supposed members of the communist party’s Central Committee, including peace consultants, as terrorists.

On June 11 however, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process rejected renewed calls for the resumption of peace talks with communist rebels, arguing that localized peace negotiations and the so-called “whole-of-nation” approach to quelling the rebellion are already working.

President Rodrigo Duterte terminated peace negotiations with communist rebels in 2017.

READ: Bayan: Why is the burden on us to prove we're not a rebel front?

NDFP: A big waste to throw away past gains

In a statement, Julieta de Lima, interim chair of the NDFP negotiating panel, called the designation of the organization as an "antipeace act" that will make sure that no peace talks will take place during the Duterte administration, and possibly after that.

"It is a big waste for Duterte to throw away all that have been achieved in the prolonged and arduous peace negotiations, which has run on and off through the administrations of President Fidel Ramos, Joseph, Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Aquino, Jr.," she said. 

She said that among the gains of past talks were the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law as well as "substantial work" on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economomic Reforms meant to institute reforms like agrarian reform that are believed to address the root cause of conflict between the government and communist rebels.

'Designation' in SC debates

Section 25 of the ATA or the designation of terrorist individuals or groups came under scrutiny during the oral arguments on the 37 consolidated petitions against the anti-terrorism law.

Government lawyers asserted that designation is an executive and administrative function of the Anti-Terrorism Council. But Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo noted that designation “affects the reputation both of person and property of designate." 

Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos asked: “Is it not indispensable that due process requirements should be complied with such as notice and opportunity to be heard?” 

READ: Cheat sheet: Key issues raised at SC oral arguments on anti-terrorism law

The Office of the Solicitor General in its memorandum told the SC that the facts and circumstances to be relied upon by the ATC may be made available by request of designee. It added: “Such designee is not left without recourse. Once designated, he can oppose/question his designation and present evidence for delisting.”

The OSG also asserted that the effects of the ATC — freezing of assets — does not partake of criminal nature, and is prevention against possible financing of a terrorist attack.

The ATC said as of June 21, no request for delisting was filed before them.

But for the family of peace consultant Rey Casambre, who was designated as terrorist alongside Sison and a dozen others in May, the ATC’s move is "is the fruit of the poisoned ATA tree.”

On seeking delisting, Casambre’s daughter, Xandra Bisenio said: “Why and how would one seek or expect relief from a toxic brew by consenting [to] more of it?" 

READ: A year into Anti-Terror Law, kin of terror-tagged peace consultant left with frozen assets, constant anxiety

Chief Justice Gesmundo said they are hopeful that the SC can resolve the petitions against anti-terrorism law before 2021 ends— with reports from Xave Gregorio

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