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Silent Witch-hunt: Delayed Media Attention on List of Terrorists | CMFR

Missing out on the Witch-hunt: Delayed Media Attention on List of Terrorists

Protest action in front of Manila Regional Trial Court in support of Satur Ocampo’s motion to remove his name from a list of alleged leaders/members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). The list is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ) petition to proscribe the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group which it filed before the Manila RTC on February 21. Photo by Lito Ocampo.

THE PRESIDENT’s love-hate relationship with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) ended with him tagging them as a terror group, endangering the lives of 600 individuals alleged as terrorists (“Duterte signs proclamation labeling CPP-NPA as terrorist group”).

Quite a turn from his unilateral call for ceasefire with the NPA in 2016 to start up peace talks with the insurgents. The terror charge now signals an “all-out war” approach to end the longest-running communist insurgency in the world.

Legal Process

The peace talks did not go well, despite the government’s release of numerous individuals who had been detained in prison on various charges. In November 2017, the president signed Proclamation 360 to formally end the peace process with the CPP-NPA (“Duterte formally ends peace talks with communists”).

This was immediately followed by Proclamation 374 in early December 2017, declaring the CPP-NPA as a designated/identified terrorist organization. The proclamation of the president, in this case, is not the final word on the government’s goal to tag the Left as a terror group.

Since the Human Security Act of 2007 (RA 9372) requires that a court pin the terror tag after a judicial process, the DOJ had to file a petition, which it did on February 21, 2018 (“Declare CPP-NPA as terrorist group, gov’t asks court”).

Mainstream media reported on the filing of the petition, but the coverage focused on the DOJ’s grounds for proscription and why it had to be filed, and quoted only DOJ Prosecutor Peter Ong and Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa.

‘Virtual Hit List’

Some media outfits accessed a section of the 55-page petition and even tweeted scanned photos of the first two pages of the petition.

The last sentence on the second page of the petition read: “Respondents CPP and NPA. . .of the following persons who are its known officers and whose names, aliases and addresses are stated hereunder” – indicating that the succeeding pages held the list. But none of the reports described the list.

Foreign news agency Reuters was the first to report about the list on March 8, some two weeks after the petition was filed. The report did not clarify where it got a copy of the petition (“Philippines seeks ‘terrorist’ tag for 600 alleged communist guerrillas”).

The following day, broadsheets Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star and Manila Bulletin, as well as newscasts of GMA-7, ABS-CBN, TV5 and CNN Philippines mentioned some names included in the DOJ petition.

The existence of the list deserved media attention and inquiry. Mainstream media’s negligence to immediately report on such a list downplayed the gravity of the administration’s crackdown on the Left. It also failed to highlight the lack of care given to who was identified. More than 600 alleged communist terrorists were named in the petition. Among them were United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, and other activists and human rights workers.

The list also includes more than a hundred aliases, which could be presumed to apply to anyone, including critics of the government.  Journalists should have probed government officials about the purpose of such a list and asked about the basis for the inclusion of so many names. Media seemed oblivious to the kind of endangerment the list involved for those identified.

The term “terrorist” is a very specific one. There is a global watch for terrorists.  But the government’s list seems to have been put together carelessly.  The Inquirer reported Senator Panfilo Lacson’s dzBB interview where he said “Karamihan (sa nasa petition) yung mga leaders eh, mas maganda leaders sa ground. Kailangan pa ng malawakang pag-imbestiga at intelligence work. Dun nagkulang ang petition… Pwede ko ngang sabihin parang trabahong tamad eh. Ang ginawa nila old files, yung mga files na inaamag sa court” (“‘Lazy work’: Lacson hits DOJ petition for terrorists tag on 600 individuals”).

RA 9372 allows surveillance, interception of communication, warrantless arrests, travel ban and extraordinary rendition once an individual is tagged as a terrorist. Under RA 10168 (Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012), they may also undergo scrutiny of bank transactions, freezing of assets and seizure of properties.

Following up on the list, stories shifted to human rights concerns. The reports gave voice to some of the accused, such as Tauli-Corpuz and Ocampo.

The reports also offered the insights of human rights defenders. In a Philstar.com report on March 9, Human Rights Watch Asia Researcher Carlos Conde denounced DOJ’s petition as a ‘virtual hit list’ (“Terrorist petition a ‘virtual hit list’ — Human Rights Watch”).

In a CNN Philippines report on March 11, Atty. Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) stated: “It is part of a shotgun witch-hunt designed to sow and create a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace” (“Human rights lawyer: Gov’t terrorist list a ‘shotgun witch-hunt’”).

On the same day, the Inquirer reported Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate saying that the granting of subpoena powers to PNP, along with DOJ’s terrorist-tagging serve as ‘prelude’ to a strengthened crackdown on progressive individuals and organizations (“Bayan Muna lawmaker sees crackdown vs Left”).

Given the context of the EJKs or unexplained deaths in the conduct of the war on drugs, this declaration against alleged communists reeks of government’s resolve to rid the country of the Left by whatever means.

The media needs to sustain vigilant reporting on how the court decides and how security and law enforcement agencies, including civilian officers, tend to dismiss due process and to abuse their power.

Media cannot put on blinders on yet another war against the people.