The members of the Anti-Terrorism Council and their track record

Illustration by Dee Ayroso

Under the Anti-Terrorism Act or Republic Act 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Council is given vast powers, including the power to designate individuals and groups as terrorists without due process.


Under the Anti-Terrorism Act or Republic Act 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Council is given vast powers, including the power to designate individuals and groups as terrorists without due process.

Human rights groups argued that such power “violates due process clause, the right to be presumed innocent, and freedom of association.”

The ATC’s power of designation, they added, is a violation of the principle of separation of powers and a usurpation of judicial prerogatives.

Under Section 29 of the law, the ATC also has the power to authorize the arrest and detention of suspects without warrants for up to 24 days. Advocates maintained this violated the right to due process and impartial trial.

The ATC can also conduct surveillance operations against those who are merely suspected of terrorism.

As the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers has put it, “The ATC, in a manner of speaking, will yet again act as
prosecutor, judge and executioner. Granting such powers in one executive body of a political branch of government is an evil sought to be prevented by the framers of the 1987 Constitution, which is why they lodged upon judges the sole and exclusive discretion to determine reasonable intrusions into liberty and privacy.”

Know about the members of the ATC and their track record.

Chairperson: Executive Secretary

The Office of the Executive Secretary is the head and highest-ranking office of the Office of the President and a member of the Cabinet. The Executive Secretary is also called “Little President” due to the vast powers he/she has. The Executive Secretary can issue orders in the name of the President, can review and modify decisions of other cabinet secretaries on appeal and can perform numerous other functions as allowed or delegated by the Chief Executive.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is a childhood friend of President Rodrigo Duterte. He is the son of former Supreme Court Associate Justice Leo D. Medialdea who served from 1988 to 1992 under President Corazon C. Aquino.

In 2000, he was appointed by then President Joseph Estrada as presidential assistant for political affairs.

When Duterte declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist groups in December 2017, Medialdea was tasked to instruct the Department of Justice to pursue charges against the communists.

Vice Chairperson: National Security Adviser

The National Security Adviser is the Director General of the National Security Council who serves as the chief adviser to the President on national security issues.

In 2016, President Duterte appointed retired general and former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Hermogenes Esperon Jr. as his national security adviser.

Esperon’s history is shaded with gross human rights violations during his stint at the AFP under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Esperon started as the commander of the Presidential Security Group in 2002; in 2004 he became the commander of Task Force Hope (Honest, Orderly, Peaceful elections) for peace.

In 2006, Esperon became AFP chief of staff. Progressive groups said his promotion was his prize for helping Arroyo win the 2004 national elections. Esperon was among the generals mentioned in the “Hello Garci” tapes, which revealed Arroyo’s order to pad her votes in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

During his term in the army, Esperson led the implementation of the counterinsurgency programs Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2. Human rights group Karapatan has recorded 1,206 individuals killed and 206 cases of enforced disappearances and 2,059 cases of illegal arrests and detention during the nine-year rule of Arroyo.

In 2010, Esperon ran for public office as congressman of the 6th district of Pangasinan but lost despite alleged massive vote-buying. It is also during this election year that Esperon linked former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza to the communist groups.

Esperon has also implicated National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, NDFP executive committee member Luis Jalandoni as well Ocampo and 50 others to the alleged Leyte mass graves.

Under Duterte, Esperon continues his manhunt for the communists as national security adviser and vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. He continues to label legal personalities as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

He also filed perjury charges against 11 human rights defenders including Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay and church workers such as the 80-year-old Rural Missionaries of the Philippines Coordinator Sr. Elsa Compuesto, MSM.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs

The DFA was among the first government departments created following the establishment of the First Philippine Republic. The agency has pursued the promotion of trade and investments, and led in pushing for military agreements with the United States.

Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr. was appointed by Duterte as foreign affairs secretary on October 17, 2018. Locsin is a lawyer, diplomat and a former journalist. Before his DFA post, Locsin was the Philippines’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Active on Twitter, Locsin drew flak from netizens on several occasions. His most controversial tweets included his support for Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs, likening it to the Nazi’s Final Solution  , and his post saying that rape is not a heinous crime.

Locsin rejected the UN Human Rights Council resolution in 2019 seeking investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines.  In October 2020, Locsin declared he himself would block United Nations officials whom he branded as “a lynch mob” should they decide enter the country.

Locsin also defended Duterte’s decision to pull out from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2018, following complaints filed by relatives of victims of drug-related killings.

On Feb. 5, 2021, the DFA issued a directive stating that all foreign diplomatic missions in the Philippines have to seek “appropriate clearance” from the DFA before channelling funds to non-government organizations (NGOs) in the country.

Secretary of National Defense

The Department of National Defense is a line agency under the executive department that supposedly guarantees the country’s security, territorial integrity and sovereignty. On its website, the department traces its history when the US established the Philippine constabulary and tracked down the remaining Filipino revolutionaries who fought under the banner of the Katipunan.

The DND, however, was only formally created on Nov. 1, 1939, which allegedly took away the “free hand” from Gen. MacArthur to decide on the country’s defense policies.

After the Pacific war, the government looked into the so-called “proliferation of loose firearms” in the hands of the Hukbalahap, the Filipino revolutionaries who fought against the Japanese army. The Joint US Military Advisory Group became the primary agency that coordinated the government’s campaign against the Huks, and Ramon Magsaysay, who, as then defense secretary and later president, also intensified its war against them.

Under the Marcos dictatorship, Juan Ponce Enrile, the then minister of national defense, was also considered as the architect and implementer of martial law. He later staged an ambush, which was among the purported reasons for the declaration of martial law.

In the succeeding administrations after the Marcos dictatorship, the DND was repeatedly involved in various anomalies. It also continued to enjoy the biggest shares in the national budget.

It is also among the government agencies leading the counterinsurgency campaigns, resulting in thousands of human rights violations from one administration after the other.

Under President Duterte, the defense department has unilaterally terminated its accord with the University of the Philippines, which prohibits state security forces from entering the university without prior notice to UP officials. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also threatened to do the same with the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Due to strong backlash, Delfin Lorenzana repeatedly called out Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. to be cautious on his red-tagging spree. He also axed the military intelligence chief over the erroneous list of supposed UP students turned rebels, calling it an “unforgivable lapse.”

Lorenzana, however, reinstated the same officials, saying he believes in a “second chance.”

Lorenzana also backed the red-tagging of progressive organizations during a Congressional hearing last year, claiming they have “documents” to prove it.

Secretary of Interior and Local Government

The Department of Interior and Local Government traces its history to the revolutionary government that the Katipuneros established with Andres Bonifacio as the first interior officer.

This was enshrined in the Biak na Bato Constitution as the Department of Interior. Over the years, however, it has undergone reorganization until the Republic Act No. 6975 or the Department of the Interior and Local Government Act of 1990 was passed. As a line agency under the Office of the President, it provides general supervision over local governments, particularly on public order and safety, disaster prevention and mitigation, and the training and equipping of the police force.

Under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the DILG initiated the Task Force Usig in 2006 purportedly to probe the spike in extrajudicial killings and arrests, under the counterinsurgency programs Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2. At the end of its accomplishment report, the task force claimed to have looked into 114 “valid” cases of killed activists, a far cry to the 977 victims of extrajudicial killings that human rights group Karapatan documented from January 2001 to October 2008.

The department was also part of the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group, which led the filing of trumped-up charges against scores of activists. Though this was later abolished, following the findings of UN rapporteur Philip Alston, the filing of trumped-up charges against dissenters and activists has continued to this day.

Under the Duterte administration, the DILG is among those considered as a militarized civilian agency, with retired general Eduardo Año as its head.

Año is implicated in various human rights cases, per documentation of human rights groups. He was tagged as the mastermind behind the enforced disappearance of farmer-activist Jonas Burgos.

With Año as commanding officer, the 10th Infantry Division in Davao City killed an ailing Leoncio “Ka Parago” Pitao and his medic. The same division of the military is implicated in the Paquibato massacre, which resulted in the killing of three indigenous peoples in 2015.

Recently, Año red tagged the five civilians killed during the “Bloody Sunday” in an attempt to justify the killings and desecration of the victims’ remains.

Secretary of Finance

The Department of Finance is managing the government’s financial resources. Among its duties are policy formulation, revenue generation, resource mobilization, debt management, and financial market development. The department is also tasked with the rationalization, privatization, and public accountability of corporations and assets owned, controlled, or acquired by the government.

Under the DOF are other government agencies including Bureaus of Customs, Internal Revenue and Treasury among others.

Under President Duterte’s administration, the DOF proposed a Comprehensive Tax Reform Program, now known as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN). The law has led to higher consumption taxes through the removal of value-added tax exemptions, such as on socialized and low-cost housing and power transmission; new excise taxes on fuel, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), and automobiles; and reduced personal income tax rates, estate taxes, and donor’s taxes.

Under the administration of President Duterte, the DOF also became a part of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict that was established under the Executive Order No. 70 and now part of the Anti-Terror Council under the Anti-Terror Act of 2020.

DoF also signed a memorandum of agreement with the Anti-Money Laundering Council to step up joint efforts against money laundering and terrorism financing.

The current Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III who hails from Davao City has been working in the government since the late President Corazon Aquino as Secretary of Agriculture and Minister of Natural Resources. He also previously worked for private companies.

Secretary of Justice

The Department of Justice is the government’s principal law agency. As such, the DOJ serves as the government’s prosecution arm and administers the government’s criminal justice system by investigating crimes, prosecuting offenders, and overseeing the correctional system. Several agencies, including the Bureau of Corrections, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of the Solicitor General, are under the leadership of the DOJ.

Apart from being the government’s prosecution arm, it administers the government’s criminal justice system by investigating crimes, prosecuting offenders, and overseeing the correctional system.

As the principal law agency, the DOJ held key positions in several programs concerning national security implemented by present and past administrations.

In 2012, then-president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III issued Administrative Order No. 35, which created an inter-agency committee on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty, and security of persons.

The committee, which was chaired by the Secretary of Justice and worked with several other heads of government institutions, was called the AO 35 Task Force. It was mandated “to serve as the government’s institutional machinery dedicated to the resolution of unsolved cases of political violence.”

As of December 2019, the group has handled 385 cases including 270 cases of extra-legal killings, 80 cases of torture, 28 cases of enforced disappearances, and seven cases relating to grave violations of International Humanitarian Law.

However, seven years after its inception, the group had only 13 convictions while 12 resulted in acquittals. The other cases are either dismissed, or undergoing investigation or trial.

President Duterte’s counterinsurgency measures came in the form of the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) which was created in October 2017. It was likened to the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) of the Arroyo administration, which filed trumped-up criminal charges against activists, and was abolished in 2009 upon the recommendation of United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston.

Progressive groups feared that the creation of IACLA was the Duterte administration’s legal mechanism in targeting and harassing critics and opposition members through fabricated charges.

In 2018, the DOJ was, again, in hot waters when it filed a 55-page petition seeking to proscribe as terrorist the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, as well as 657 alleged ranking members of these organizations.

Many of those listed are human rights defenders, peace advocates, and victims of political persecution by previous administrations – who were detained and eventually released after all the charges against them were dismissed.

Further, the incidents cited to be terrorist acts committed by the CPP were previously filed in court and eventually dismissed for lack of evidence.Some of the incidents took place at a time when there was no law yet defining terrorist acts, years before the passage of the Human Security Act 2007.

When Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was asked whether the Justice Department validated the names of the implicated individuals, he admitted that the department did not verify the list, and based only on information handed over by intelligence agencies.

Guevarra was appointed in April 2018. Prior to his appointment, Guevarra was the senior deputy executive secretary where he represented the Executive Secretary in the Cabinet Cluster on Justice, Security, and Peace; the Anti-Terrorism Council, the Strategic Trade Management Committee; and the National Coast Watch Council.

Secretary of Information and Communications Technology

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the Executive Branch of the government. Under Republic Act 10844, the DICT plans, develops, and promotes the national ICT development agenda.

Its current secretary, Gregorio ‘Gringo’ B. Honasan II, was appointed by the President in 2019 with promises of leading the country in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” This included developing algorithms, Wi-Fi connectivity, 5G networks, and 3D printing, among others.

In 2020, the Commission on Audit (COA) issued an observation memo stating that the DICT advanced P300 million for confidential expenses in late 2019. The memo also declared that Secretary Honasan requested the funds in his name, “for confidential expenses in connection with cybersecurity activities.”

After which, the DICT admitted to using P300 million for “lawful monitoring and surveillance of systems and network infrastructure.” Honasan added that the department needed the funds to monitor possible cyberattacks against government offices.

The issue surfaced after the resignation of DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, questioning the lack of transparency in the department’s disbursement of confidential funds for surveillance saying, “My original position has always been [that] the DICT cannot use a confidential fund because it’s not in our mandate to do intelligence and surveillance work.”

COA also said that the government agency underspent for projects due to the budget being used as confidential funds.

COA said Honasan violated rules on confidential funds. State auditors believe that the department was unable to perform its mandate, particularly for cybersecurity.

Executive Director of Anti-Money Laundering Council

The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) was created pursuant to “protect the integrity and confidentiality of bank accounts and to ensure that the Philippines shall not be used as a money laundering site for the proceeds of any unlawful activity.”

The AMLC is composed of the Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as Chairman, and the Commissioner of the Insurance Commission and the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission as members. It acts unanimously in the discharge of its functions.

Its current Executive Director is lawyer Mel Georgie Racela. Before entering AMLC, Racela worked for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) for 21 years. He held positions in various areas such as banking supervisions, legal counseling, and litigation and as well as financial investigation.

Racela took office after the former executive director Julia Bacay-Abad stepped down after Duterte’s constant allegations and threats to AMLC and BSP officials.

Racela helped develop the framework of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Just recently, AMLC ordered the freezing of accounts and assets of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ (UCCP) Haran Center. AMLC claimed that UCCP’s assets are allegedly being used to finance “terrorism.”

AMLC also ordered the freezing of bank accounts of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) . Like the UCCP Haran, RMP also helped set up Lumad schools in Mindanao.  Both the UCCP Haran and RMP found the allegations of financing terrorism as downright unacceptable.

On the contrary, AMLC recently partnered with PhilHealth to “promote and encourage cooperation and coordination to effectively prevent, control, detect, investigate and prosecute unlawful and money laundering activities as well as terrorism financing.” The health insurance agency received flak over P15-billion in funds allegedly pocketed by PhilHealth officials.

National Intelligence Coordinating Agency as secretariat

Illustration by Dee Ayroso

The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency was created by virtue of former President Elpidio Quirino and later greatly expanded under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, NICA was also tasked to carry out intelligence collection, counterintelligence measures, and anti-terrorism efforts.

Under President Duterte, NICA heads the Situational Awareness and Knowledge Management of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

In 2017, the intelligence agency, along with the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, provided government prosecutor Peter Ong the information it used to file a proscription case, seeking to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist organizations. The petition named more than 600 individuals as supposed leaders and members of the CPP and the NPA, among them were 36 peace consultants, 61 legal activists, 17 detained political prisoners, 83 women activists, four former and present United Nations officials, nine dead, two victims of enforced disappearance, and dozens of aliases.

NICA, through its director Alex Monteagudo, is among the government agencies charged with administrative complaints for linking the Kabataan Partylist to the CPP. The youth partylist group argued that red-tagging violates Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The intelligence agency, according to Dutch missionary Otto De Vries, was also behind the false accusations that he is engaged in acts of terrorism. Vries is currently facing deportation charges, a first in the nearly three decades of his missionary work in the country.

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