Crackdown on ‘legal fronts’ a threat to basic human rights – lawyers’ group

“Such reckless threats are legally questionable and worse, will erupt in even more vicious and wholesale violations and would also constrict whatever democratic breathing space there is left.”


MANILA – The Duterte administration once again warned of a crackdown on the Left.

On January 26, President Rodrigo Duterte, repeated his vow to crush the New People’s Army (NPA) within the year, including the so-called ‘legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

“You enemies of the state, my orders are really to destroy, to destroy the apparatus. This NPA, I plan to really wipe you out. The talks are over. No more talks. And I will go after the legal fronts,” he said.

Last year, President Duterte issued Proclamation No. 360, November 23, 2017, officially terminating the peace talks with the CPP, NPA, and the National Democratic Front (NDF) and Proclamation No. 374 followed afterwards, declaring the CPP-NPA as terrorists.

A spate of human rights violations, especially killings among the peasant sector and harassment cases of rights advocates and activists, followed after the proclamations were issued.

Related story: Points to ponder on Proclamation 374

No due process

According to National Union of People’s Lawyers President Edre Olalia the crackdown on legal fronts “effectively undermines on vague grounds the political expression of even legal and legitimate organizations and associations.”

The lawyers’ group slammed the legally problematic definition of “terrorism” under the Human Security Act of 2007 as “vague and overbroad, possibly covering or cynically extending to even innocuous political advocacy.”

In 2010, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, despite being questioned by progressive groups – peculiarly, the Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque included.

Rights to be violated

Being vague and overbroad, it can also be utilized to restrict the exercise of fundamental human rights, such as the rights to free expression, association, and assembly.

Mere suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities allows authorities to take custody of bank data and information and even freeze accounts.

“It degrades and does not respect the legitimate status of national liberation movements and their actions including the recognized use of armed force as long as they are in accordance with international humanitarian law,” Olalia said in a statement.

“Relatedly, under international law, there must be a distinction between armed combatants and civilians. To treat them as one and the same regresses us to the time when unarmed activists, progressive partylist members, indigenous peoples, farmers, religious, media, doctors and even lawyers were attacked because of the labeling and demonization which resulted in incitement to violence or actual violence against them,” he added.

Related story: Duterte’s ‘shoot’ order to spur violations of int’l humanitarian laws

‘Guilt by association’

The NUPL also slammed the Duterte administration’s attempt at making a general conclusion that all members of certain organizations are ‘terrorists’.

“The label ‘legal fronts’ is such a subjective and malicious description of unarmed legitimate organizations who have their own membership, advocacies, platforms and methods separate and distinct from what they are supposedly ‘fronting’ for,” the human rights lawyers’ group said.

Victims of the successive politically motivated killings are mostly activists, tagged supporters of the NPA, or human rights advocates.

“Such reckless threats are legally questionable and worse, will erupt in even more vicious and wholesale violations and would also constrict whatever democratic breathing space there is left,” they warned.(

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