“We call on the SC, as the constitutionally appointed guardian of civil liberties and protector of the legal profession, to take immediate measures to stop these attacks.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – As the Supreme Court conducts oral arguments on the 37 petitions against the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 (ATA), attacks against members of groups critical to the government is becoming more brazen.
A few days after the attempted murder of human rights lawyer, Angelo Karlo Guillen, several leaders in the Southern Tagalog region were killed in simultaneous police operations that also saw the arrest of several mass leaders, with press releases from the CALABARZON police regional office tagging them as members of “Communists Terrorists Groups (CTG)”.
In a virtual press conference last March 4, Howard Calleja expressed his concern on the increasing attacks not just against lawyers but even against petitioners questioning the legality of the ATA.
Calleja reiterated that in order to stop these attacks, the SC should issue a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the ATA.
“We call on the SC, as the constitutionally appointed guardian of civil liberties and protector of the legal profession, to take immediate measures to stop these attacks,” said Calleja.
“The issuance of a TRO on the enforcement of the ATA pending the final adjudication of the 37 petitions could help address this worsening situation,” he asserted.
During the first day of oral arguments, Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said that it might be too early to question the ATA, citing the lack of an actual case or what they call as direct injury.
But critics of the ATA assert that the law should be declared unconstitutional citing the constitutionally violative wide ranging power of the Anti-Terrorism Council, like its ability to designate individuals and organizations as terrorist.
Read: Declare terror law unconstitutional before it causes more harm, high court urged
Increasing attacks on activists, critics of the gov’t
Prior to Guillen, at least two of the petitioners were slapped with trumped-up charges.
The most recent was Chad Errol Booc, a volunteer teacher of the Lumad bakwit school who was arrested together with six others after the police raided their sanctuary at the University of San Carlos-Talamban campus in Cebu City on Feb. 15.
He was slapped with charges of kidnapping and anti-trafficking and is currently imprisoned in Cebu City.
Igorot leader Windel Bolinget is also a petitioner against the ATA. In January, Police Regional Office Cordillera Director R’win Pagkalinawan issued a shoot to kill order against him if he resisted arrest. To evade the threats on his life, Bolinget was forced to seek protective custody with the National Bureau of Investigation.
Bolinget and 10 other individuals, most of whom are activists in Northern Luzon, were slapped with murder charges for the alleged killing of a Lumad named Garito Tiklonay Mabato in 2018. Mabato was killed by the paramilitary group Alamara in an incident in Kapalong, Davao del Norte, Southern Mindanao. However, Bolinget, who is a native of Mountain Province, said that he has never set foot in Southern Mindanao.
In a statement, the Sandugo-Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self Determination expressed fear that the ATA’s scheme of criminalizing activists will become worse.
“With the eradication of the role of the judiciary in the arrest and detention of persons, or holding them incommunicado, protection of human rights will also be eradicated,” Sandugo said in a statement.
“Severe human rights violations like torture, enforced disappearances and killings can happen under the radar during those long days of captivity in the hands of the Anti-Terrorism Council,” they added.
Read: Petitioners raise longer detention without charges under terror law
Some petitioners were also being tagged as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
Calleja cited the red-tagging of lawyer Raffy Aquino, a member of the Free Legal Assistance Group, whose name was included in Armed Forces of the Philippines’ list of University of the Philippines (UP) students recruited by the NPA – dead or captured. Aquino is also a petitioner of one of the 37 petitions against the ATA.
Human rights lawyer Evalyn Ursua, one of those arguing against the ATA, claimed that after filing the petition to the SC, she was put under surveillance. She observed that there were several instances of motorcycle-riding men taking photos of her residence. She also received suspicious phone calls from unknown callers.
In January, retired SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Ombudsman Chief Conchita Carpio-Morales asked the high court to compel the Office of the Solicitor General to explain if Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr’s social media posts, linking the Makabayan bloc and the NUPL to the communist group, is the official position of the government. The SC has ordered the OSG to make a comment.
It was followed by another manifestation by Carpio that in February, Parlade accused Inquirer.net reporter Tectch Torres-Tupas of “aiding the terrorist” for her report regarding tortured Aeta farmers’ petition seeking help from the SC.
SC urged to act concretely
Ursua noted that it is ironic that while the oral arguments are ongoing at the SC, several instances of attacks against lawyers and the petitioners continue to happen.
“Parlade made it clear that our day will soon come (may araw din kami). It is a threat. The petitioners were also red-tagged and threatened. So we expect that this will continue,” she said.
She said that they have issued statements asking the SC to act on the killing of lawyers. They have also sent an open letter with recommendations. However, there are still no concrete steps taken by the SC until now.
“How many more attacks, killings should happen before the SC would act on our calls?” Ursua asked.
“Will they wait until there are no longer brave and independent lawyers left to service the poor?” she lamented.
Albay Congressman Edcel Lagman said that “when crimes against lawyers are perpetrated and committed repeatedly, the SC must intervene to safeguard human rights and afford the fullest protection to the ministers of the law.”
“When lawyers are in peril, ordinary citizens are rendered defenseless,” Lagman added. He also urged the 18th Congress to immediately enact the Human Rights Defenders Bill, which the House of Representatives already passed on third reading during the 17th Congress.
Calleja meanwhile called on all members of the legal profession to condemn the continuing attacks against lawyers and judges including attacks against petitioners and their counsels on the ATA petitions.
“Beyond issuing statements and condemnation, we urge members of the legal profession and various law groups to launch a more active and militant response to these attacks,” Calleja said.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares meanwhile said that these attacks continue because President Rodrigo Duterte encourages violence by publicly vilifying activists and government critics.
“Impunity is worse in the Philippines because they can do anything and get away with it,” Colmenares said.