NEWS | Two Aetas face anti-terrorism charges, call to nullify ATL amplified
By Angela Vanessa Manuel
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) confirmed that two Aetas are currently detained at the Olongapo City Jail, facing non-bailable anti-terrorism charges, after being accused of killing a solider. The progressive lawyers group filed a manifestation to the Supreme Court (SC) citing a direct injury case, reiterating that the rights of the two Aetas were violated. This is the first known case under Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL), which was passed into law last July 3.
According to the NUPL, who also serves as the counsel of activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos were allegedly involved in a shoot-out with soldiers from the 73rd Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which occurred last August 21 in San Marcelino, Zambales. The said incident led to the death of Sergeant Rudil Dilao.
The accused were said to violate the Section 4(a) of the ATL, which states that those involved engaged “in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life.” Apart from this, both Gurung and Ramos, along with two female Aetas, were also separately charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
However, NUPL claimed that these are all trumped up charges as the two were falsely accused as members of the New People’s Army (NPA). Additionally, the firearms and explosives found on them were planted by the army. They furthered that the accused were fleeing due to the intense military operations and continued bombings in their ancestral land when they were confronted by the AFP.
Gurung and Ramos, together with their counsel from the NUPL — Central Luzon, will attend the pre-trial hearing on Thursday before the Olongapo Regional Trial Court.
Questionable constitutionality of ATL
The ongoing case faced by the two Aetas were vehemently condemned by NUPL as it proved that the vague definition of terrorism under ATL is undermining public safety. The aforementioned Sec. 4(a) is one of the highly criticized provisions of the law as critics believed that it can prompt abuse of the law.
“The available facts and circumstances we received so far from our colleagues in NUPL-CL indicate that the charges were a way of reprisal against unarmed civilians (indigenous people) for the death of a soldier in an alleged encounter with NPAs in the area,” NUPL remarked. “So it proves that almost anything can be contorted to fit the broad and vague definition of terrorism under the [ATL].”
Additionally, the rampant instances of red-tagging from government officials themselves are one of the reasons why calls to nullify the ATL and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) were amplified.
“These baseless, blatant, and damaging vilification and red-tagging by those who are key components of the Anti-Terrorism Council have escalated the petitioners’ well-founded fear that RA 11479 [or the ATL] and its unbridled power of designation will be used arbitrarily, without recognition of the principles of due process, presumption of innocence and basic rules of evidence,” BAYAN explained.
As of writing, there are 37 petitions filed to nullify the ATL. The SC earlier announced that it will hold the preliminary conference on the ATL case on November 26. Last Monday, November 16, the Free Legal Assistance Group filed an urgent omnibus motion to the SC urging them to use videoconferencing during the said conference to allow the remote participation of all petitioners.
Read Mkule’s official statement on the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill here.