DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Two retired Supreme Court (SC) justices, a former Vice President, and at least 52 petitioners asked the High Court to intervene and take measures to stop the attacks against the petitioners and counsels of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020 or R.A. 11479.
In a presser, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, retired Associate Justice, and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, former Vice President Jejomar Binay, and 52 lawyers also urged the SC to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on ATA while a final decision is still pending.
‘Rapid response unit’
For its part, Human Rights Watch (HRW) pressed on the United Nations (UN) member countries to address the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines and for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) to deploy a “rapid response unit” to probe the spate of killings of activists in the country.
The Office of the UNCHR should deploy a “rapid response unit” to the Philippines to investigate the killings as UNCHR is mandated to send such units to respond to humanitarian and human rights crises worldwide, the HRW said.
Leftist activists in the Philippines have long been targets of the government’s counterinsurgency operations, often involved targeted killings and which HRW detailed in its reports published in 2007 and 2011. The government, it said, accuses these activists of being New People’s Army (NPA) members or supporters, and makes no distinction between armed fighters and political activists, who are subjected to the often deadly “red-tagging.”
“The Philippine government’s ‘dirty war’ against political activists needs to stop,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, said. “Concerned governments should support meaningful efforts to hold the Duterte government to account for grave human rights violations,” said Robertson.
The attacks involved attempts on the lives of the petitioners, threats, and harassment.
They cited the attempt on the life of lawyer Angelo Karl Guillen, a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer (NUPL) in Iloilo City, who was stabbed with a screwdriver on this temple and back part on March 3. Guillen represents the indigenous people’s group Tumandok in Panay Island who were arrested in Iloilo and Capiz on December 30, 2020 and also as counsel of Bayan versus Rodrigo Duterte, et.al (G.R. No.252733) petition questioning the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law (ATL).
Lawyer Evalyn Arsua, the counsel in the petition of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) and other petitioners, is worried over the repeated incidents of motorcycle-riding men taking pictures of her residence. She has been receiving suspicious phone calls, too.
Carpio and Morales underscored on the red-tagging statement posted on a FB page linked to Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. who heads the Southern Luzon Command of the military and also the spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as saying, “individuals, groups, and organizations that oppose the law should be monitored.” It was posted prior to the first oral argument on the controversial law in question.
Another lawyer, Raffy Aquino who is a FLAG member and also as counsel in one of the 37 petitions was listed by the State forces as a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines/NPA (CPP-NPA).
Members of the NUPL who also serve as counsels of the petitions from other groups were also red-tagged.
Inquirer reporter Tech Torres who covered the oral arguments was included in the terrorist listing.
“These attacks are directly brought about by the continuing impunity in the country, as evidenced by the killing of at least 54 lawyers and judges and the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings since 2016. These attacks against lawyers must stop, as they threaten the practice of the legal profession and the right of the people to judicial remedies,” the group said.
Alarmed over the bloody enforcement of search and arrest warrants resulting to mostly deaths of the involved persons because of the “fought back or nanlaban” narrative from the police, the group likened the handling of the warrants in the government’s anti-drugs operations.
“We are alarmed that a further proliferation of search warrants will ensue under RA 11479, which does not contain clear judicially determinable standards giving enforcement agencies a general warrant to search and arrest ‘suspected persons,’” the group said.
On March 7, police and soldiers reported to killing nine individuals and arrested six others from various progressive groups in Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and Batangas while serving the search warrants.
The raids, HRW said in a statement released on March 10, were part of what the government called Coplan (Case Operation Plan) Asval, a “simultaneous implementation of search warrants” by teams consisting of police and military units.
The bloodbath came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte, during his meeting with NTF-ELCAC in Cagayan de Oro on March 5, ordered the police and military to kill communist insurgents and ignore human rights – a threat that he had made several times in the past.
The group also urged lawyers and law groups to launch more proactive responses to these attacks including the filing of complaints to the UN.
On February 2, 2021, the SC began hearing the oral arguments on the 37 petitions filed by different civil society groups questioning the legality of the anti-terror law and its provisions which have led to human rights violations.
Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Bill in July 2020 amid opposition from the public. (davaotoday.com)Bloody Sunday, human rights watch, Liberation Movements, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Philippine National Police, Red-tagging, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, supreme court, Tokhang, United Nations, Vice President Jejomar Binay