Manila court junks govt's case to declare CPP, NPA as terrorist groups

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 22) — The government lost its bid to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People's Army (NPA) as terrorist groups.

In her review of the CPP's "Plan of Action," Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 noted that the communist party and its armed wing NPA do not exist to engage in terrorism.

"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(s) may have earned the CPP-NPA the terrorist label," the judge said in a ruling dated Sept. 21 -- the day the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law.

But she pointed out that "armed struggled" is only a "means" to achieve the CPP's purpose, and it's not the "purpose" of the creation of CPP.

In determining whether the CPP and NPA committed "terrorist acts," the court assessed nine incidents of atrocities allegedly committed by CPP-NPA members as testified by government witnesses.

It turned out the eyewitnesses' identification of the perpetrators was only based on the clothes worn. The court said it takes more than a certain manner or mode of clothing to establish that one is a CPP-NPA member.

"In the absence of any evidence that the official uniform of the members of the CPP-NPA consists of an all-black outfit, this court cannot give credence to the witnesses' identification," it explained.

The court also scrutinized if the acts were committed to "sow and create a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace" as defined by the Human Security Act (HSA).

It found that none of the nine incidents caused "widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the Philippine populace."

"While the court does not dismiss or minimize the loss of lives and property, these incidents can only be characterized as 'pocket and sporadic occurrences' in limited and scattered areas of the country," it pointed out.

For the court, the nine incidents of atrocities fell within the category of "small-time, hit-and-run, sporadic acts of violence with no specified victims or targets."

It also determined if the definitional requirements (1) that the acts be for the purpose of coercing the government and (2) to give in to an unlawful demand were present to say that the CPP and NPA are terrorist groups.

Magdoza-Malagar noted that the nine incidents had only minimal impact on the larger population and therefore can only be considered as "ripples in a much large pond, certainly far from reaching the 'widespread' or 'extraordinary' proportions sufficient to 'coerce' the government to give in to any demand, much less, an unlawful demand."

"Not having met the stringent requirements of HSA of 2007, the nine acts of atrocities committed by the NPA can only qualify as incidents of rebellion," she ruled.

The Department of Justice filed the petition for proscription on Feb. 21, 2018 against the CPP-NPA to recognize them as terrorist groups under Section 17 of Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007. Then President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation 374 that designated the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group.

Designation and proscriptions are two different things. Designation is an administrative act of the executive through the Anti-Terrorism Council, while proscription is a judicial proceeding before the regional trial court (under the repealed HSA) or before the Court of Appeals (under Anti-Terrorism Act or ATA).

Even with the passage of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020, Magdoza-Malagar said the court retained jurisdiction over the case and could use the definition of "terrorist acts" in the HSA.

CPP welcomes decision

The CPP welcomed the court's decision, adding it would come out with a more comprehensive review in the coming days.

The group also expressed hope that the development would put a stop to the "terrorist branding" against its members, as well as lead to the removal of the CPP-NPA from the list of terrorist organizations in other countries.

Despite the move, however, the CPP still encouraged members to "to keep their guards up."

"We anticipate the officers of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines], as well as the NTF-ELCAC [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict], to disregard the decision of the Manila RTC and continue with its terrorist tagging, its anti-people counter-insurgency drive and campaign of suppression," it said.

The AFP refused to give initial comment as it has yet to receive a copy of the court's resolution.

The NTF-ELCAC, for its part, said it plans to appeal the ruling.

"Syempre malungkot dahil (Of course it's sad) there is such decision made by a court," said Executive Director Emmanuel Salamat. "Pwede nating i-appeal (We can appeal) as far as we can."