June 14, 2024

For as long the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) exists, legitimate complaints against the government will continue to be interpreted as moves to destabilize or rebel against the State, according to an international human rights group.

During the Baguio leg of Amnesty International (AI)Philippines launch of the State of the World’s Human Rights 2023/24 report on May 8, AI said it does not see any progress in sight for human rights defenders under the Marcos administration.

AI Philippines Activism and Mobilization Department Manager Wilnor Papa said human rights defenders, who are often branded as sympathizers of the communist movement, only have a few legal remedies if their rights are violated.

The NTF-Elcac, which was supposed to bring development in conflict-areas, is even used as tool by some individuals to accuse those who critique the government of instigating rebellion or are branded as terrorists.

“Simply believing in communism as an ideological stance is not a criminal act under Philippine laws and cannot be used as justification to target any individual or group. But the lack of legislation recognizing the legitimacy of the identity and work of human rights defenders belonging to “red-tagged groups leave them highly at risk and vulnerable to threats and attacks perpetrated by both state and non-state actors,” Papa said.

Papa said NTF-Elcac actually stifles dissent resulting in the weakening of democratic institutions both guaranteed by the constitution and the universal declaration of human rights.

Papa said AI is hopeful of the abolition of NTF-Elcac, but admits that the group does not see any indication yet that the current administration will issue another directive stopping the government’s “anti-communist” campaign.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, also on May 8, granted the writ of amparo in favor of former Bayan-Muna party-list representative and activist Siegfried Deduro.

Deduro filed the petition for the issuance of writ of amparo after the Iloilo Peace and Order Council and the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army labelled him as a communist, terrorist and an official of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

In his petition, Deduro said there have been instances when he was followed by unidentified men as a result of these labeling.

The Regional Trial Court in Iloilo has dismissed the petition saying there was no proof that Deduro’s life and liberty was under threat. When brought to the SC, the High Tribunal said the RTC should not have dismissed the petition without even requiring the Army to answer.

The SC said Deduro should not be expected to await his own abduction or even death before the supposed responsible persons admit their role in the threats to the petitioner’s life, liberty, and security.

The SC ordered the RTC of Iloilo for a summary hearing of the petition, saying red-tagging, vilification, labelling, and guilt by association threaten a person’s life, liberty,and security and therefore could be grounds for the issuance of a writ of amparo.

Writ of Amparo is a legal remedy for individuals whose right to life, liberty, and security is violated or threatened. – Rimaliza A. Opiña