We, members of the 307 grassroots organizations affiliated with CPA, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance for the Defense of Ancestral Domain and for Self-Determination, urge that Republic Act 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, be voided or repealed. The law endangers our exercise of our rights as indigenous peoples to ancestral domain and to self-determination. It increases our vulnerability to red-tagging, police and military surveillance, threat, harassment, and intimidation, as well as outright brutality, warrantless arrest, and imprisonment. It is aimed at suppressing democratic action, paves the way for a massive crackdown on democratic organizations, and seriously threatens what remains of democracy in this country.
1. The actions we take to defend our ancestral domains and assert our right to self-determination can easily be misrepresented as acts of terrorism.
In order to protect our lands against destruction by large dam builders, large-scale loggers, and large miners, we have sometimes had to resort to putting up human barricades, as well as staging pickets, protest marches, rallies, and other mass actions. Although peaceful, these have been dealt with violently by private security personnel, the police, or the military. And they have justified their violence by misrepresenting our actions as disruptive, communist-instigated, terrorist-infiltrated, and a threat to public safety. With the passage of the Mining Act of 1995, hundreds of us had to defend ourselves in court against the charge of illegal obstruction of mining operations. But most cases against us were eventually dismissed. Only a few of us were actually imprisoned, and but briefly. With the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, all of us who participate in mass actions for the defense of ancestral domain face the danger of being “designated” as terrorists who aim to destroy or disrupt the construction or installation of “critical infrastructure”. And all of us face the danger of being detained without charges for as long as 24 days.
Thousands of us have stood bravely in the way of gigantic exploration drill rigs, huge bulldozers, and other large earth-moving equipment. Thousands of us have stood unarmed against the clubs, pistols, and high-powered rifles of the police, hired goons, and the military. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is aimed at undermining our courage. Among the objectives of its authors is that of forcing us into allowing greedy capitalists to plunder our resources unopposed.
2. Our discussion of issues that concern us can easily be branded as inciting to terrorism.
One of the most important instruments for exercising our right as indigenous peoples to self-determination is free, prior, informed consent (FPIC). It is by obtaining, sharing, studying, and freely discussing information that we are able to properly determine whether to grant or deny our consent to projects proposed for implementation within our ancestral domains, and what course of action we should take to ensure that our decision on such projects is respected. With the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, however, the content of the information materials we share, the discussions we hold, and the position papers or statements we issue will be subject to scrutiny. And because the law is both too general and too vague, anything we say can be construed as “inciting to terrorism”. If our communities were to feel intimidated by this, if we could no longer talk and publish or communicate freely, how would we be able to exercise FPIC?
“We appeal to the people to be critical of what you read, especially at Facebook. We also appeal to you to speak out against disinformation, red-tagging, terrorist-tagging, and vilification of the CPA and its members who have not committed any crime or wrongdoing against the people,” ended Bolinget.
3. We are vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and detention.
The Anti-Terrorism Act authorizes an Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to “designate” individuals and organizations as terrorists “upon a finding of probable cause”. Further, it authorizes the ATC to order the arrest of designated persons without formal warrant, and their detention in unspecified facilities without formal charges for 14 to 24 days.
Determining probable cause will not be the prerogative of the judicial authorities but will entirely be up to the ATC. Mere suspicion or allegation can serve as probable cause for designating our alliance as a terrorist organization. We can be arrested and detained just for being CPA members. Even our personal funds and properties can be seized, and we will thus be left with limited means to avail of legal assistance.
Just a few months before Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Duterte regime mounted an aggressive vilification campaign against our alliance. Clearly laying the groundwork for actions the state could launch against us upon the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, Duterte’s social media trolls and Gabino Ganggangan, Mayor of Sadanga, Mountain Province and poster-boy of the Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC), tried to make it appear that our alliance had no accomplishments and no constituency, was a mere front of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and served as a recruiter for the New People’s Army (NPA). They alleged that our leadership used the funds it raised from our solidarity partners abroad to support the CPP-NPA. Will these groundless allegations suffice as probable cause for designating us as terrorists?
4. The military and the police, and even local government officials, can use the law to further abuse their authority and violate our human rights.
Even before the Anti-Terrorism Act passed into law, the military, the police, and certain local government officials in the Cordillera region were already abusive. In the course of implementing the Duterte regime’s counter-insurgency program, recently dubbed ELCAC, they invaded our schoolhouses and other public buildings, our villages and our very homes; illegally took censuses and subjected us to surveillance and interrogation; intruded on our children’s school classes and on the meetings of our community organizations; labeled our meetings as “pamiting ti NPA”, and our organizations as “organisasyon ti NPA”; tried to suppress our protest or complaints against specific officials, projects, or programs of government, or against the government as a whole; banned non-governmental organizations from bringing development projects to our localities; prohibited linkage between local and regional or national organizations; kept tabs on the flow of food into and out of our villages, at times outrightly preventing the entry and exit of rice just because they feared it would be used to feed the NPA; forced civilians to surrender as NPA combatants or as members of NPA-organized militia; used the funds of the state’s surrender program to fatten their own wallets by presenting fake or recycled surrenderees, and appropriating for themselves a substantial percentage of the money allotted for the integration and livelihood of these “surrenderees”.
In other regions of the country, the implementation of the regime’s ELCAC program has entailed the ransacking of the offices and homes of unarmed activists in police and military search and seizure operations, the planting of evidence in the form of firearms and ammunition during these “searches”, the mass arrest and detention of the said activists, extra-judicial killing, and even massacre. We experienced these, too, in the Cordillera region under previous regimes because the police and the military have always tended toward abuse. Under ELCAC, they have gained the forced cooperation or willing collaboration of local government officials. The Anti-Terrorism Act provides them and the local government officials with justifications and loopholes for continuing and expanding their abusive practices.
Since the time of the Macapagal-Arroyo regime, regions occupied by indigenous peoples like ourselves have been the target of “IP-centric” counter-insurgency campaigns. There are two reasons for this: one, IP ancestral domains are resource-rich but have remained largely inaccessible to extractive industries because we IPs have been fairly successful in our struggles to retain control of our territories; two, mountainous and still largely forested, IP domains can serve as ideal bases for insurgent guerrillas. We, indigenous peoples, have been suffering the consequences of these campaigns. And we are especially anxious now that the Duterte regime is pushing more aggressively forward with its Build, Build, Build program as a pump-priming measure for saving the national economy from the ravages of its mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The program includes the construction of unnecessarily large and unquestionably destructive projects in the building of hydroelectric and irrigation dams within IP domains. We foresee that as program implementation intensifies, so will IP-centric counter-insurgency, now relabeled counter-terrorism, and that Build, Build, Build will be accompanied by the Duterte regime’s other favored course of action, Kill, Kill, Kill.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet has already taken note of “persistent impunity” and “stark” human rights violations under the Duterte regime. With the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, how can we not expect the situation to worsen?
We call on all Filipinos to join us in fighting the tyranny of the Duterte regime. Junk the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020!