How senatoriables view Anti-Terror Act, peace talks and political prisoners

With research from Emily Vital and Janess Ann Ellao

Graphics by Ipe Soco

MANILA – On April 26, the Supreme Court junked with finality the motions for reconsideration filed by petitioners on its Dec. 7, 2021 decision on the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

According to the media briefer released by the SC Public Information Office, the motions were denied “due to lack of substantial issues and arguments raised by the petitioners.”

The ATA is controversial as it was questioned by at least 37 petitioners who appealed to the SC to declare it unconstitutional. The SC, however, declared only portions of two provisions of the law as unconstitutional.

Read: High court upholds Anti-Terror Act except portions of 2 provisions  

Human rights group Karapatan asserts that the law is a dangerous legislation that directly harms people’s basic rights and freedoms.

“By denying with finality our motions for reconsideration, the Supreme Court has upheld the law’s most draconian provisions — from the vague and overbroad definition of ‘terrorism,’ the arbitrary powers of the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate and freeze assets of individuals and organizations tagged as ‘terrorists,’ and the 24-day period of warrantless detention,” the group said in a statement.

“These would only engender the commission of human rights violations under the cover of implementing this terror law,” the group said in a statement.

Read: The terror inside the Anti-Terror Law 

With eight days before the May 9 elections, Bulatlat takes a look at the senatorial candidates’ statements on the ATA as well as their stance on peace talks and on political prisoners.

Bulatlat looked into the public pronouncement of 23 candidates gunning for a seat in the Senate.   

On the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

Some of the 23 candidates who expressed their thoughts on the ATA were petitioners seeking for the declaration of the law’s unconstitutionality.

These included human rights lawyers Neri Colmenares and Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, former Vice President Jejomar Binay, and labor leader Elmer “Bong” Labog.

Colmenares said that there is no need to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007. During the oral arguments, he said, “Even if I said the HSA is draconian, [it] already allowed surveillance, monitoring, freezing of accounts, even [to] arrest a suspect without a warrant… Their argument that we need [the] ATA because we don’t have tools to ferret out these crimes is actually wrong because they were allowed by various laws.”

Diokno also said during the oral arguments that, “No other law empowers the State to arrest its people for exercising rights guaranteed by the Constitution, based solely on a law enforcer’s subjective opinion of their state of mind.”

Labor leader and lawyer Luke Espiritu also expressed his support for the repeal of the ATA.

Meanwhile, re-electionist Sen. Risa Hontiveros was among the senators who voted against the passage of the law. Sen. Leila De Lima, who is in prison, was not able to vote but expressed her opposition to the law.

In a statement De Lima said, “An assurance from the Senate leadership that the Anti-Terrorism Bill won’t be used to suppress dissent and disable or destroy critics and political or ideological enemies is not enough. So-called safeguards in a law won’t matter to draconian implementors thereof.”

In the House of Representatives, Antique Representative Loren Legarda voted against the passage of the ATA.

Sorsogon Governor Francis Escudero also expressed his reservations to the ATA. Escudero, in particular, cited the provision which allows the Anti-Terrorism Council to arrest suspected terrorists even without a warrant. Escudero said that this provision violates the Constitution “because under the constitution and under the law, you can only be arrested if they have a warrant for your arrest issued by a judge.”

Read: Anti-Terror Council’s ‘undue delegation of power’ questioned 

Former Senator Sonny Trillanes is against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, saying that the thousands killed in President Duterte’s war on drugs “is more deaths than any terrorist has inflicted in history.”

Meanwhile, re-electionists Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, Miguel Zubiri and Richard Gordon all voted in favor of the ATA.

Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, a staunch ally of Duterte, led the passage of the ATA at the HOR. It was passed within a week through the committee level and the plenary of the House of Representatives. He also defended the passage of the law and told its critics to just read the measure.

Senatorial aspirant and staunch supporter of Duterte, Robin Padilla, defended the ATA by citing the two massive explosions in Lebanon in August 2020. However, the Lebanon government has announced that the explosion was caused by the improper storage of thousands of tons of highly explosive chemical compounds.

The Lebanese officials did not call the incident a terrorist attack.

Former Presidential spokesperson and now senatorial aspirant, Harry Roque, vigorously defended the ATA, claiming that the law contains no draconian provisions.

“Lahat po ng provision diyan ay ibinase rin natin sa mga batas na mga iba’t ibang bansa na mas epektibo po ang kanilang pagtrato dito sa mga terorista (All of the provisions are based on the laws of other countries, whose treatment against terrorists are more effective),” he said.

Meanwhile, there is no known public statements or pronouncements regarding the ATA, from the six other senatorial aspirants namely: former Ifugao representative Teddy Baguilat Jr., former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Ejercito Estrada Jr., Alex Lacson, Gilbert Teodoro, Raffy Tulfo and former Department of Public Works and Highways secretary Mark Villar.

On peace talks and political prisoners

During the oral arguments on the ATA, Solicitor General Jose Calida blatantly red-tagged the petitioners against the ATA.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. also announced during the oral arguments that the Anti-Terrorsm Council will publish the list of individuals designated as terrorist. The list included peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre, Adelberto Silva and Rafael Baylosis.

Ladlad, Casambre and Silva are detained on trumped-up criminal charges.

Read: Kin fear for safety of peace consultants in Anti-Terror Council’s list 

The implementation of the ATA also led to the freezing of the bank accounts of Ladlad and Casambre.
The bank accounts of Women peasants group Amihan and Catholic mission organization Rural Missionaries of the Philippines were also frozen. They are not in the list of terror groups released by the ATC but were accused of financing terrorism.

Read: A year into terror law, ‘meager’ assets of rights defenders frozen 

With the ATA, peace advocates are worried that this measure might close doors to attaining peace. Add to that, the number of political prisoners with trumped-up charges have increased under the Duterte administration.

Pilgrims for Peace said that the inclusion of peace consultants and negotiating panel members on the designation list “undermines the atmosphere of goodwill and trust needed to pursue peace negotiations, in order to address the roots of the armed conflict in the country.”

Read: A look back on the Terror Law and why Filipinos oppose it

Progressive senatorial candidates Colmenares and Labog are both supporting the peace talks between the Philippine government and the NDFP.

In 2019, Colmenares said that the Philippine government’s termination of the peace talks could be a prelude to attacks on progressive and opposition leaders.

“The termination of the talks is not good for the cause of just and lasting peace, as well as the upcoming elections,” Colmenares tweeted in 2019.

Former Sen. Loren Legarda said she is supporting the resumption of peace talks, adding that finding common ground is possible.

“As an official who has maintained good working relations with the NDFP over the years, I have seen the sincerity of all sides to pursue a common objective and have witnessed their intense desire for peace and social justice. Resuming the peace talks and continuing the discussions on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), the very heart and soul of the peace negotiations, will help us find a common ground to help achieve our goal,” she said I’m a recent statement

She also served as a facilitator in the release of prisoners of war and has joined several humanitarian missions.

In a 2017 statement, Sen. De Lima told both the Philippine government and the NDFP that ceasefire and the release of political prisoners should never be a precondition to peace talks.

“A ceasefire is always a confidence-building measure, not a precondition to peace talks. The same is true with the release of political prisoners. The non-satisfaction of either is not a valid cause for the withdrawal of either the GPH or the NDF from the negotiating table. Peace talks can continue without a ceasefire or the release of political prisoners,” said De Lima.

On the recent enforced disappearance of an NDFP peace consultant, De Lima said, “Pabalik na naman ba tayo sa panahon ng mga ‘desaparecidos’? Kailanman, hindi pwedeng manahimik at magkibit-balikat na lang sa ganitong mga insidente; hindi pwedeng maging normal ang ganitong mga pagkawala, at kultura ng kawalang pananagutan sa ating bansa (Are we going back to the time of the desaparecidos? Never is it right to be silent and just shrug our shoulders with these incidents; this should not be normalized, the disappearances and the culture of impunity).”

During her stint as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, De Lima pushed for the investigation of cases of political prisoners, including the arrest, illegal detention, and torture of 43 health workers known as “Morong 43.”

In 2017, Hontiveros urged Duterte to resume the talks with the NDFP, saying that the Philippine government have invested in the peace process both outside and inside the government structure.

She also expressed dismay over the treatment of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino when the mother visited the wake of her three-month-old daughter River.

Escudero remained optimistic that the peace talks between the NDFP and the Philippine government would continue.

“I hope this terror tag on (the CPP-NPA) is just a hiccup or a negotiating tactic in the peace process. I am still optimistic that peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA will soon resume and prosper under cooler situation,” Escudero said.

In a CNN Philippines interview, he added, “Even if it should not continue now, perhaps in the next few days or in the next few weeks. But definitely government should never close the door towards peace or engaging the Reds in peace talks.”

Gatchalian also expressed support for the resumption of the peace talks between the Philippine government and the NDFP back in 2018. He said that peace talks “is the most logical route considering na buhay ang pinag-uusapan natin (that we are talking about life, here).”

In 2011, Baguilat was among the lawmakers who filed a house resolution calling for the general, unconditional, and omnibus amnesty of political prisoners.

In his 2016 presidential campaign, Binay once vowed to address the root causes of armed conflict, such as poverty, inequality, and injustice, particularly in Mindanao.

Cayetano supported Duterte’s decision to unilaterally terminate the peace talks with the NDFP.

“From the communists’ side, they think we are giving too little. But on the side of the government, we feel we have already given them so much. But no other President has given this much this soon,” Cayetano said.

On the death of Baby River, daughter of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino, Diokno said, “Hiniwalay na nga sa kapapanganak na sanggol, pinagkait pa yung pagkakataong magkasama sila sa huling mga sandali ng buhay ng anak niya. Hindi ito makatarungan. Hindi ito makatao. Walang magulang ang dapat pagdusahan ito (They already separated the mother from the baby right after birth, and now they are denying that they be reunited in the last moments of the life of her baby. This is unjust. This is inhumane. No parent should suffer like this).”

In 2018, Gordon asked Jose Maria Sison, founding chairman of the CPP and chief political consultant of the peace panel of the NDFP, to allow the peace talks to continue in the country.

“We want to know if he still has control over his people because even with the peace talks, they are killing soldiers, Gordon said in Filipino in a radio interview.

“Meron naman silang safety passes eh. Kung gusto mo ng kapayapaan at gusto mong makuha, ipinaglalaban mo (They have safety passes. If they want peace and you want to achieve it, you fight for it),” he added.

Padilla, meanwhile, said in a radio interview in 2019 that the peace talks with the New People’s Army should be regionalized.

In an article, Roque said the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF is impossible because communists are “abusive”.

As former defense secretary of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Teodoro rejected the 2008 proposed ceasefire by the Philippine military, believing that the military can defeat the NPA. He instead urged the Congress to pass a law that would both grant amnesty to rebels and allow localized ceasefires.

In 2014, under the administration of the late President Benigno Aquino, Trillanes cast his doubt on the communist’s sincerity on the peace talks. While he said that any move to initiate peace negotiations is laudable, however, for him, this would only be used as leverage to release political prisoners.

In 2019, Trillanes said that it is under the Duterte administration that there is a chance to attain peace because of his close ties with the communists when he was mayor of Davao City. He also said that because of this, many soldiers were killed.

“It would be unfair for the soldiers na kapag naka-bwelo na sila ng offensives nila bigla magtatawag ng peace talks. Hindi na yan. Siguro makipagsapalaran na lang sila nyan sa susunod na administration (It would be unfair for the soldiers that when they have already gained momentum with their offensives, they would suddenly call for peace talks. This can’t be. Maybe they’d just hope for that with the next administration),” he said. 

Villanueva supported the 2017 decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to suspend the peace talks, following the Cotabato incident. He said he understand where Duterte is coming from whenever he read news about the soldiers killed.

He is also among the minority lawmakers who is pushing for the release of political prisoner Amanda Echanis, a community organizer and daughter of slain peace consultant Randall Echanis.

“Our government should always ensure the right to life of our newborns and protect them from abuse, exploitation, and conditions that may harm them from living full and dignified lives,” Villanueva said.

In 2011, former senator Miguel Zubiri highlighted the importance of implementing genuine land reform to resolve the armed conflict in the country. This, he said, should be coupled with government subsidy and support to farmers.

He also supported the bilateral ceasefire between the Philippine government and the New People’s Army back in 2016 to “allow tempers to die down first.”

“My suggestion is (to) have the negotiators come back to the negotiating table and discuss a bilateral ceasefire at the soonest possible time,” he said.

In Mindanao, Zubiri said he prefers the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration principle in peace process. However, peace advocates have long argued that this is focused on the capitulation instead of addressing the roots of armed conflict.

Lacson, Espiritu, Estrada, Tulfo and Villar have so far made no statement on the peace talks and political prisoners. (RTS, RVO) (

Share This Post