4 Cordillera rights defenders challenge ‘terrorist’ designation in court

Photo from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance Facebook page


MANILA – Leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) challenged their designation as “terrorists” by the Anti-Terrorism Council before the Baguio Regional Trial Court on Nov. 23, Thursday.

Four leaders of the CPA namely Windel Bolinget, chairperson of the group, its founding member Sarah Alikes, Research Commission member Jennifer Awingan-Taggaoa, and Regional Council member Stephen Tauli.

This is the first legal action filed to challenge the Anti-Terrorism Council’s designation against Bolinget et al.

It was on July 10 this year when the ATC published the terrorist designation of Bolinget, Alikes, Taggaia and Tauli.

In their petition, the four CPA leaders asked the court to overturn ATC’s terrorist designation, emphasizing concerns on the infringement of their constitutional rights.

For Bolinget, the ATC’s designation is “an assault to their basic rights” as their bank accounts and other assets, including the CPA’s, were frozen by the Anti-Money Laundering Council. He added that this has “deprived them of fully practicing their work and advocacy and ultimately subjected them to further harassment, humiliation, and threats”.

“We knew from the start that this law would only be weaponized in silencing dissent. They try to make us falter; we, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders. But we will never deter. This legal action is a testament to our unwavering resolve and unity in standing up for our civil liberties. CPA is a legal and legitimate organization. I am a proud Igorot activist, not a terrorist,” said Bolinget in a statement.

The group was assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in collaboration with Baguio lawyers, rights lawyers from The Klima Center of the Manila Observatory.

NUPL President Ephraim Cortez said that their clients have already questioned the basis for their designation before the ATC, but to no avail.

“The grievous consequences of designation, which are not limited to asset freezing, encroach upon our clients’ basic rights and freedoms. Their case demonstrates the urgent need to revisit and declare the ATC’s power of administrative designation as unconstitutional,” Cortez said in a statement.

Meanwhile, rights-based groups and indigenous peoples’ groups supported the CPA leaders’ move to challenge the said designation.

In a statement, Karapatan asserted that “ATC’s arbitrary designation powers under the Anti-Terrorism Act are unconstitutional — and using them to designate human rights defenders and dissenters as ‘terrorists’ is simply a desperate attempt to vilify their work and repress dissent.”

Palabay added that the four IP leaders have “long been targeted with trumped-up charges and various forms of harassment for their tireless work in defending indigenous communities from militarization, land-grabbing, and environmentally-destructive projects.”

“They are not terrorists, and clearly, the ATC’s terrorist designation is a part of a long string of attacks against them,” she added.

Karapatan and other groups also staged a protest in front of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency in Quezon City coinciding with the filing of the petition in Baguio City and with the International Day Against Impunity.

Eufemia Cullamat, Sandugo spokesperson and council member said that the “ATA is not against terrorism, but rather the ATA itself and the government that implements it are the ones committing terrorism.”

“The implementation of the Anti-Terror Law has only intensified the attack against dissenters. State violence continues, such as the bombing of indigenous communities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Apart from the bombing, there are the filing of trumped-up charges, fake surrender as members of the New People’s Army, illegal arrest and imprisonment, abduction, torture, and killing of indigenous peoples,” Cullamat said.

Katribu meanwhile said they support the CPA’s legal pushback against the ATC’s designation “especially that Indigenous Peoples continue to be victims of human rights abuses while defending the rights to land and self-determination.”

“We call on everyone to stand against impunity, and let our voices echo for truth, freedom, and justice,” the group said in a statement. (RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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