WITH the continued dismissal of petitions before the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to remove the terrorist designation for four Cordilleran indigenous activists, said activists have taken to the court of law to challenge the law and the ATC’s decisions with a petition for certiorari and prohibition on the grounds that the ATC had “gravely abused its discretion.”
“Our clients are asserting that the power of designation is being abused and weaponized against rights defenders, including indigenous peoples’ rights activists like them who have been defending their ancestral domains and exercising their right to self-determination,” said National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) president, Ephraim Cortez, who along with lawyers Antonio La Viña and Carlos Isagani Zarate who physically went to the courts with the four activists, wrote the petitions alongside a team of other local lawyers.
The four activists are Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) leaders Windel Bolinget, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, Jennifer Awingan-Taggaoa, and Stephen Tauli, who were designated as terrorists by the ATC under its Resolution No. 41 dated June 7 pursuant to paragraph 3, Section 25 of the Anti-Terrorism Law.
Bolinget and the activists pursued other legal remedies under the anti-terror laws, but when both their petitions were dismissed unilaterally by the ATC, they chose to challenge the designations and the law itself in court to seek recourse.
Zarate said the Baguio lawsuit would address the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (Republic Act No. 11479), as well as the methods imposed to determine whether individuals subscribe to the ATC’s definition of a terrorist or terror groups.
The petition asks the court to determine if the activists had “suffered injury” because of ATC Resolution No. 41 and to decide whether RA 11479 “fails to comply with the due process requirement, violates the rights to free speech and its cognate rights, as well as the principle of the separation of powers.”
CPA chair Bolinget said that the terrorist designation is “an assault to their basic rights,” which has effectively frozen their bank accounts and other assets including the CPA itself, “deprived them of fully practicing their work and advocacy and ultimately subjected them to further harassment, humiliation, and threats”.
According to the petition itself, designation of terrorist status via linking the activists to unsubstantiated and unverified terror activities and associations render the actions of the ATC under the leadership of Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin “arbitrary and unconstitutional,” citing the lack of legal and procedural standards in the process of declaration of designation.
“In the first place, they are prohibited from accessing whatever classified evidence damning them to be judged as having met the ‘requirements for designation,’” the petition says.
The petition also says that under the current law, there is no recourse once designated a terrorist other than to “virtually admit” the circumstances accused against them, with no legal system to challenge the “facts” used to designate.
As early as during the drafting and deliberation of the law, human rights defenders and advocates were opposing it, with La Viña being among the lawyers who questioned the constitutionality of the law before it was passed during the previous Duterte administration.
Amid justified concerns of the law being weaponized against dissent and activism, La Viña specifically stressed that indigenous communities would be most vulnerable.
“We knew from the start that this law would only be weaponized in silencing dissent. They try to make us falter; we, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders. But we will never deter. 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,” said Bolinget.