Activism is not terrorism, yes—but it is also important to counter state propaganda that equates rebellion with terrorism. This dangerous and malicious assertion is what ultimately lays the groundwork for the government to railroad the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill.
For example, the New People’s Army (NPA), as the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is engaged in a protracted armed rebellion and civil war against the Philippine government in the last 51 years, and such armed conflict is recognized within the ambit of international humanitarian law.
The belligerent status of the NPA as a party to armed conflict is recognized in the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front, signed in 1998.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Felimon Santos Jr., the country’s top military official, said the proposed law is not targeting any specific organization, group or individual. However, Philippine Army Chief Lt. General Gilbert Gapay said the NPA fits the definition of “terrorist” in the anti-terrorism bill as they are “no different” from local terrorist groups.
The problem now lies when the Philippine government purposefully and maliciously muddies activism with rebellion, and rebellion with terrorism, and terrorism with insurgency in the conduct of the similarly muddied scope of its counterterror and counterinsurgency campaigns.
Instead of merely waging a war within the ambit of international humanitarian law, the government is launching a counterinsurgency campaign against the communist rebellion—where “enemies” are not only rebel combatants, but also their alleged civilian supporters and sympathizers.
As such, state agents have routinely tagged organizations as “legal fronts” of underground groups and have justified the killings of civilian activists by falsely claiming they are slain rebel combatants—while framing legitimate armed encounters with rebels as “terror attacks.”
Before the anti-terrorism bill was passed, President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration made a legal effort to tag individuals as terrorists in connection with tagging the CPP and NPA as terrorists before a court.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) listed 649 individuals it wanted to tag as terrorists, including a UN Special Rapporteur, internationally acclaimed environmentalist, journalists and civilians and filed a proscription with the Manila Regional Trial Court. The court struck off names of persons from the list, including known activists and peace consultants Satur Ocampo and Rafael Baylosis. The DOJ would pare down the list to only eight people. The DOJ also admitted that the 649 people they wanted to be tagged as terrorists did not undergo personal verification of their connection with the CPP or NPA.
But the new “terror bill” now grants the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) the judicial power to issue “warrants of arrests” allowing the detention of a person for at least 14 days without charges, on the mere “written authority” of the ATC, which is not a court. This not only violates the due process clause of the Constitution, but also violates Art. III Sec. 2 that declares that “no warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge.”
By dictionary definition, terrorism is characterized by the unlawful use of violence on civilians. If the state has orchestrated through a national task force brutal state violence on civilians while peddling the most blatant of lies against them—who, then, is the real terrorist?