NTF-ELCAC to NPA rebels: Surrender Now or Face Charges Under Anti-Terrorism Law
January 11, 2023
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on Thursday (January 11, 2023) urged communist insurgents to surrender now or face charges of committing terroristic acts.
This after the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that “99.9%” of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or Republic Act 11479" is constitutional and will take effect on January 15, 2024.
Only two provisions of the contested law were declared unconstitutional: protests being equated to terrorism and the designation of individuals or groups as terrorists upon the request of local or foreign groups.
“Bago pa kayo (NPA rebels) makasuhan sa korte, magsurender na kayo,” NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Joel Sy Egco, director-designate of the task force’s media bureau Integrated Communications Operations Center (ICOC), said during a virtual press conference.
Early this week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its filing of charges against 11 suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who ambushed state forces in May 2023 in Occidental Mindoro, the first litmus test for the anti-terrorism law.
The DOJ’s case identified the accused as Jovito Marquez, Antonio Baculo, Sonny Rogelio, Veginia Terrobias, Lena Gumpad, Job Abednego David, Jessie M. Almoguera, Reina Grace, Bethro Erardo Zapra Jr., Daisylyn Castillo Malucon, and Yvaan Corpuz Zuniga. If convicted, this would be the first historic case under the Anti-Terrorism Act against the Maoist-inspired NPA, the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
This was preceded by reports about the SC ruling that rested the case of at least 37 petitions that questioned the constitutionality of the law, except for one petition filed pending resolution before a regional trial court (RTC).
Press briefer resource persons Assistant Secretary Jose Dominic Clavano IV and Associate Solicitor James Clifford Santos from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), respectively, hailed the SC ruling as a “powerful tool” of the government to combat any form of terrorism in the country.
“This is a very welcome development to the government and we assure the public and our friends in the media that this will be done in a balanced way where we acknowledge that this is a powerful tool, but at the same time, as a powerful tool, it must be used to its full advantage of the government and to its people,” Clavano, also DOJ spokesperson, said.
He underscored though that while the ultimate goal of the law is to quell terrorism and its ill effects, its primary intent is the preservation of life, peace, and security of people and that the government has to play a balancing act with the right people, right direction, and right leadership.
For his part, Santos, also a spokesperson for NTF-ELCAC’s Legal Cooperation Cluster (LCC), pointed out that terrorism is not an ordinary crime and assured the public that government law enforcement agencies will abide by the rules of the anti-terror law in prosecuting terrorism by taking a balanced approach.
“We’re positive on this welcome development when it comes to our legal landscape on quelling terrorism and we’ll remain committed to helping to ensure lasting peace through the lawfully sanctioned remedies and tools that we've in the legal landscape,” he said.
During the briefing, Clavano and Santos gave snapshots and their agencies’ legal interpretations of the SC ruling particularly on the rules of designation and proscription, most particularly in the context of the decades-old problem of communist insurgency.
In simple terms, the rules on designation will trigger the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to freeze assets like bank accounts and properties of identified individuals or groups suspected as terrorists. On proscription, it involves judicial determination upon the declaration of outlawed individuals or groups.
Clavano explained that the designation is purely an “executive act” without intervention by the judiciary while proscription is a “punitive” or “penalized” which involves judicial determination like the issuance of a written order against identified terrorists or groups.
Meanwhile, asked if an NPA rebel can be exonerated of a heinous crime filed before the court after his or her surrender to the government owing to the question if the anti-terrorism law could affect the amnesty program of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Santos said that the anti-terrorism law and amnesty are “two different animals”.
“When we talk about amnesty, we talk about the obliteration of the crimes kasi under our jurisprudence it says there that amnesty looks backward and obliterates political offenses…the recent proclamations by the President do not cover heinous crimes, kasama dun ‘yung terrorism,’ he said.
But Santos said that both the law and amnesty can go simultaneously and hand-in-hand without any legal problem.
Clavano agreed with Santos saying that the “two (law and amnesty) are mutually exclusive” but can “go on simultaneously”.
Regarding the law’s implication vis-a-vis the amnesty to the ongoing exploratory talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the negotiating panel of the CPP-NPA, Clavano has this to say:
“The current talks which had been opened up by the administration have nothing to do also with the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, especially now that it has been fully operationalized by the operative fact that the Supreme Court issued the guideline…In my opinion, it may affect the status of a certain group that is going to be granted amnesty if ever. However, the acts of terrorism, if still done during the talks can still be prosecuted by the law.”
“I guess it’s a matter of good faith that if these groups are willing to come forward and talk and agree to a ceasefire then there’s no need for any prosecution under the terrorism act. But if they come forward and present themselves in good faith and yet still continue activities that will fall under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, then they can also be prosecuted,” he added.
NTF-ELCAC MEDIA BUREAU
Ref: Joel M. Sy Egco