A MANILA trial court has rejected the government’s plea to declare communist organizations in the Philippines as terrorist groups.
In a 135-page resolution dated September 21, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 ruled that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), were not formed for the purpose of engaging in terrorism based on their platform.
“It is not difficult to see how the CPP-NPA’s resort to ‘armed struggle’ and the violence that necessarily accompanies the same, as the sanctioned means to achieve its purpose may have earned the CPP-NPA the terrorist label,” Presiding Judge Marlo A. Magdoza-Malagar said in the ruling.
Ms. Malagar added that the group’s “armed struggle” is only a “means” to achieve its purpose.
The Justice department under the previous administration filed a petition in 2018 seeking to declare the CPP and the NPA as “terrorist and outlawed organizations” under the Human Security Act of 2007.
The law has since been repealed by the Anti-Terrorist Act of 2020, which has labeled the communist party as a terrorist group.
Under the Human Security Act of 2007, terrorism is defined as engaging in acts used to “sow and create a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.”
The court noted there was no evidence in the nine incidents of terrorist acts it examined supposedly linked to the CPP-NPA.
It added these incidents were considered isolated events in scattered areas in the country, which could not cause widespread fear and panic.
“The CPP can only gain adherents for as long as the government remains insensitive to and incompetent in addressing the social realities of poverty and material inequality which bring with them the oppression of the marginalized,” the judge said.
Current Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told reporters that the department will appeal the ruling, according to a video posted by state-run news agency People’s Television Network on Twitter.
Marco L. Valbuena, CPP chief information officer, said the court ruling was a “pleasant surprise” amid efforts to arbitrarily label groups as terrorists
“The anti-terrorism dogma is being used to silence and suppress the people’s voice, legitimate resistance and grievances to widespread social ills,” he said.
Mr. Valbuena added that the ruling should compel the country’s anti-communist task force to stop branding democratic organizations and other peasant groups as terrorists.
Solicitor General and former Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra earlier said the anti-communist task force should file complaints instead of tagging activists as communists.
The anti-communist task force’s executive director, Emmanuel B. Salamat, asserted that they will continue efforts to raise awareness of how “deceptive” communist groups are in dealing with the state” while addressing the roots of insurgency.
“We are in harmony with other agencies to address what they call injustices and discontent, so to speak, by the communist terrorist group,” he told the ABS-CBN News Channel, reacting to the court ruling.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato M. Reyes, Jr., meanwhile, said the ruling reminds the government to address the cause of armed conflict instead of labeling groups as terrorists.
“We have said it before, labeling revolutionaries and those engaged in peace negotiations as “terrorists” is wrong, counter-productive and undermines any possibility of a political settlement in the armed conflict,” he said in a statement.
The Philippine government decriminalized membership in the CPP and similar organizations through a law signed by the late former President Fidel V. Ramos in 1992.
In 2017, former President Rodrigo R. Duterte issued a proclamation declaring the CPP-NPA as terrorist groups.
In April, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal seeking to reverse its decision upholding the validity of the Anti-Terrorism law, which was signed in 2020.
The Anti-Money Laundering Council has said the law would help it counter the so-called dirty money.
Political experts have said that the current administration still tags organizations as terrorists and communists without basis.
“These actions are a big challenge to the rule of law, independence of the Judiciary, accountability mechanisms and people’s rights,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said in a Viber message on August 20.
“All these attacks on legitimate organizations and personalities to stifle dissent must be challenged by various organizations in all arenas,” she added. — John Victor D. Ordoñez