Cordillera indigenous leaders challenge 'terrorist' tag

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Cordillera indigenous leaders challenge 'terrorist' tag
CPA leaders Windel Bolinget, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, Jennifer Awingan-Taggaoa, and Stephen Tauli files a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the Baguio Regional Trial Court on November 23, 2023
Cordillera Peoples Alliance

MANILA, Philippines — Four leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance filed a petition Thursday challenging the move by the Anti-Terror Council to tag them as “terrorists,” in the first legal action against such designation. 

CPA leaders Windel Bolinget, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, Jennifer Awingan-Taggaoa and Stephen Tauli filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the Baguio Regional Trial Court. 

The petition seeks to overturn the terrorist designation of the four indigenous leaders and challenge the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The ATC and the Anti-Money Laundering Council were named as the respondents.

In July, the ATC approved a resolution designating as “terrorists” the CPA leaders, who have been subjected to harassment and threats for years.

Petitioner and CPA chairperson Windel Bolinget described the designation as an infringement on their fundamental rights. It has resulted in the freezing of their bank accounts and assets, “[depriving] them of fully practicing their work and advocacy, and ultimately [subjecting] them to further harassment, humiliation and threats.”

‘Activists, not terrorists’

“This legal action is a testament to our unwavering resolve and unity in standing up for our civil liberties. CPA is a legal and legitimate organization. I am a proud Igorot activist, not a terrorist,” Bolinget said. 

CPA is a federation of indigenous peoples’ organizations in the Cordilleras. 

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

Earlier this year, Bolinget, Abellon-Alikes, Awingan-Taggaoa and Tauli along with three other Cordillera- and Ilocos-based activists were charged with rebellion. The case was dismissed in May.

Beverly Longid, national convenor of Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KATRIBU), said that the designation of CPA leaders is a “blatant disregard of due process.”

“The suppression of indigenous peoples’ legitimate resistance and free expression through terrorist designation establishes a dangerous precedent of categorizing activists and people's rights advocates as ‘terrorists,’” Longid said. 

Protest to junk ATA

In Quezon City, groups held a protest in front of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency to renew their call to junk the Anti-Terrorism Act. 

“As we have repeatedly asserted, the ATC’s arbitrary designation powers under the Anti-Terrorism Act are unconstitutional—and using them to designate human rights defenders and dissenters as ‘terrorists’ is simply a desperate attempt to vilify their work and repress dissent,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said. 

Palabay also cited the council’s terrorist tag against Mindanao-based indigenous rights defender May Casilao and community health worker Natividad Castro, the use of the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act against faith-based institutions and development workers, and the filing of criminal complaints under the ATA against Southern Tagalog activists.

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