Gov't designates as terrorists 4 Cordillera IP activists

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Gov't designates as terrorists 4 Cordillera IP activists
Leaders and members of Cordillera Peoples Alliance trooped to the Supreme Court on June 19, to appeal a Court on Appeals decision overturning a petition for a Writ of Amparo from state-perpetrated attacks, including red-tagging, trumped-up charges, and abductions.
Cordillera Peoples Alliance

MANILA, Philippines — The Anti-Terrorism Council has designated four leaders of rights group Cordillera Peoples Alliance — who have reported being on the receiving end of harassment for years and who recently had rebellion charges against them dismissed — as terrorists.

Activists and human rights defenders criticized the designation, which they said shows how the controversial anti-terrorism law is being used against government critics and to suppress dissent.

In a press statement published on Manila Times Monday, the ATC said it had approved a resolution designating Cordillera activists Sarah Alikes, Jennifer Awingan, Windel Bolinget and Stephen Tauli as terrorists. 

May Vargas-Casilao and a certain Jovencio Tangbanwan were also designated as terrorists. 

The council accused them as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing New People’s Army. 

“ATC Resolution No. 41 cites that based on verified and validated information, sworn statements, and other pieces of evidence gathered by Philippine law enforcement agencies, the ATC found probable cause, warranting the designation of the following persons for violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act,” it said. 

The council accused Alikes and Bolinget of violating ATA’s Section 10 (recruitment to and membership in a terrorist organization) and Section 12 (providing material support to terrorist organizations). It accused Awingan and Tauli of violating the law’s Section 10. 

The ATC also alleged that Tangbawan violated ATA’s Section 4 (committing terrorism) and Section 10, and Vargas-Casilao violated Section 6 (planning, training, preparing, and facilitating the commission of terrorism) and Section 10. 

The move allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council to investigate and freeze the financial assets and properties of designated individuals.

‘Activists are not terrorists’ 

“We condemn in the highest terms these relentless attacks against indigenous peoples activists. Clearly, the ATA is used as an instrument to stifle dissent and target activists,” the CPA—a federation of indigenous peoples’ organizations in the Cordilleras—said in a statement.

Bolinget, who chairs the CPA, denied the accusation of the ATC. 

“I am not a terrorist. I am proud that I am an activist. Activism is not terrorism. I condemn this ATC designation that I am a terrorist. Those who persecute activists and human rights defenders are the real terrorists. Junk terror law,” he said on Facebook. 

The designation was the latest in a string of attacks the four CPA leaders have faced for years. 

Earlier this year, the four CPA leaders and three other Cordillera- and Ilocos-based activists were charged with rebellion. The case was dismissed in May.

In February 2018, Bolinget was included in a “proscription list” of more than 600 individuals who were allegedly members of the CPP-NPA. His name, as well as the names of most persons that were included in the list, was later removed. 

Then in August 2018, police filed murder charges against him and several others for the killing of Garito Tiklonay Malibato in Davao del Norte. The case was dismissed for lack of probable cause in July 2021. 

Tauli, a member of the regional council of CPA, was abducted near the CPA office on Aug. 20, 2022. According to rights group Karapatan, he was interrogated about his work and was coerced into signing a document stating his position in the CPP-NPA. He was found on the night of August 21. 

Meanwhile, Awingan was arrested on rebellion charges on January 30, and was released eight days after posting bail. 

In February 2017, Alikes was arrested on cases of arson and robbery. She was released on bail after two days in jail, and eventually the charges against her were dismissed.

“The designation list is a virtual hit-list. We condemn the ATC for unjustly, arbitrarily and maliciously designating political activists as terrorist individuals and endangering their lives, safety and security in the process,” Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said. 

CPA has been supporting indigenous communities in Cordillera who are opposing dam projects that will disturb the region’s ecosystems and disrupt people’s livelihoods.

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