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Terror law plays out as SC conducts hearings

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - February 6, 2021 - 12:00am

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Even before the SC began hearing, on Feb. 2, the oral arguments by lawyers representing the dozens of petitioners, a public call was posted on social media by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., saying: “Let’s be watchful of these individuals, groups and organizations opposing a law that will protect our citizens from terrorists. What’s their agenda?”

Intoning that the “day of judgment” was coming up and insinuating that the petitioners are part of the Communist Party, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front, Parlade ominously added, “Very soon, blood deaths will be settled. The long arm of the law will catch up on you and your supporters.”

Promptly, two of the petitioners – retired SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former SC Associate Justice and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales – asked the tribunal to require the Solicitor General (the government’s chief lawyer) to explain if the statement posted on Facebook by Parlade was the government’s position. The matter was “of serious concern that requires judicial remedy,” the two jurists stressed, because the general’s post was “designed to intimidate.”

As they put it, there is irony in that Parlade’s act itself can be considered a violation of the anti-terror law. In particular, they cited its Section 4 provision, which penalizes anyone who “engages in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to any person, or endangers a person’s life… when the purpose of such act, by its nature or content, is to intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear… as having committed the crime of terrorism.”

With no rebuke or restraint coming from his superiors, Parlade has doubled down on issuing more accusations and threats after the SC began hearing the oral arguments from the lawyers of the 37 petitioners.

His latest antic has been to vent his ire on the online reporter of Inquirer.net, Tetch Torres-Tupas, for reporting on the accounts of two Aeta men, recounting the torture they allegedly suffered at the hands of Army soldiers after being arrested in Zambales on Aug. 21, 2020. Charged with violation of the ATA, the two men filed their own petition against the terror law shortly before the start of the oral argument hearings on Feb. 2.

The reporter based her news story on relevant portions of the petition. In a post on Facebook last Wednesday, however, Parlade tagged Tupas’ reporting as “fake” and “propaganda.” Calling her work “sloppy,” he accused Tupas of not bothering “to check the side of the AFP and gov’t if what you are reporting is true or FAKE.” Denying the Aeta men’s torture accounts ever happened, he even claimed the Army unit to which the soldiers reportedly belonged wasn’t in Zambales, but in Davao. The Inquirer, however, corrected him, pointing to a Facebook post by the 7th Infantry Division on Aug. 22, 2020 indicating that the unit cited in the petition was indeed in Zambales at the time.

In a subsequent post, replying to a netizen’s question if charges could be filed against Tupas, he replied it was possible to charge her, under the ATA, for “aiding the terrorists by spreading lies.” But then, wasn’t it obvious that it was he himself who was spreading an untruth?

Parlade has already threatened, several times, to sue people or groups that he has been red-tagging, but he never got around to filing charges, evidently for lack of evidence. Condemning his “attempt to sow fear [and] stifle dissent” Inquirer.net defended Tupas’ “right to make truthful and objective reports.”

Similarly, the Justice and Court Reporters Association, of which Tupas is a member, called out Parlade’s threat to sue her as “utterly unacceptable” and demanded his apology for his baseless allegations against their colleague. The court reporters pointed out that they had also reported the same story as Tupas did. Brusquely, the general shot back: “Is the media trying to influence the magistrates hearing the petitions by peddling news which they already know to be fake?” Here, Parlade is evidently second-guessing what the SC justices are thinking.

The justice and court reporters also pointed out to Parlade that the sort of social media posts he had been making are what the petitioners against the ATA cite, among others, as evidence of a “credible threat of prosecution – threat that can warrant a judicial review of the law he seeks to protect and promote.”

National Union of People’s Lawyers president Edre U. Olalia commented: “In a grotesque way, (Parlade) is actually reinforcing and validating the myriad of objections and criticisms against the ATA.” The NUPL represents the two Aeta men in filing their last-minute petition before the Supreme Court.

The problem, however, isn’t only Parlade.

Absent judicial restraint on the Anti-Terrorism Act’s implementation, the Anti-Terrorism Council has quickly proceeded to designate the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army as a “terrorist organization.” Although it would still take the Court of Appeals to approve the government’s yet-to-be filed petition to judicially declare the CPP-NPA as such, the entire Duterte government apparently is already acting as if it were so. The security forces have conveniently – but wrongly and maliciously – conflated communism with terrorism.

Thus civilian, police and military and paramilitary agents across the country have been practically given free rein to tag anyone on whom they may arbitrarily libel a terrorist and subject him or her to surveilance, harassment, threats or worse, to extrajudicial killing.

What can be more destabilizing than that?

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

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