Philippines slaps terrorist label on political arm of banned communist party

The terrorist tag on the National Democratic Front of the Philippines is unprecedented. The group has operated as the overground political arm of the banned communist party, and was involved in the peace process with the Duterte government

July 22, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch

As the Philippines government escalates conflict with the communist insurgents, the country’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) has designated the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF or NDFP) as a “terrorist” organization. The NDF is the overground political arm of the banned Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), largely led by surrendered or retired militants who have taken to peace advocacy and other peaceful political activities.

In a resolution dated June 23, published this week by the government, the ATC has deemed that NDF is an “integral and inseparable part” of the CPP, which is currently in an armed conflict with the government. The ATC was established under the highly controversial Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.

The NDF largely consists of several unarmed groups sympathetic to the CPP. It has for long functioned as the overground political arm of the banned communist party and consists of trade union, rights advocacy groups, students movements, and peace advocates. The ATC resolution alleged that the NDF “continue to lure and/or recruit people to join the NPA (New People’s Army, armed wing of the CPP),” a charge repeated by governments in the past but which remains unsubstantiated.

Responding to the move, the CPP strongly condemned the ATC for “acting as a stooge” of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), an anti-insurgency agency established by president Rodrigo Duterte. The CPP also alleged the move to be part of the “schemes of Duterte to cling to power beyond 2022,” and an attempt to “draw away attention from the regime’s crimes against humanity.”

“The ATC designation of the NDFP was done with the manifest aim of further shutting all doors to peace negotiations as a means of resolving the roots of the civil war in the country,” the statement said, adding, “It is a devious attempt to overturn all past achievements attained through peace negotiations, including signed agreements covering human rights and international humanitarian law.”

The CPP added that “In the face of the unabated red-baiting against the legal democratic forces by the ATC officers themselves, it has now become only a matter of time that the ATC will designate social activists, peace advocates as well as the political opposition, as “terrorists” or complicit with terrorism.”

The NDF was the principal organization recognized in the now defunct peace process with the Philippines government which went on for decades, and was resumed in the early years of the Rodrigo Duterte presidency in Oslo, Norway.

The peace negotiations, which began under the presidency of Corazon Aquino in 1987, had come a long way, with successive governments and the communist rebels signing several crucial agreements including the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG) in 1995, which protected recognized peace consultants and negotiators, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Law in 1998.

The government unilaterally withdrew from the peace negotiations in 2017 and officially declared a permanent end to the process in 2019 after talks on land redistribution and other socioeconomic measures failed to yield results.

Ever since, the government has disregarded international laws while cracking down on and red-tagging protected peace consultants of the NDF, leading to several arrests and even assassinations. This was also accompanied by resumption of the armed conflict, largely concentrated in the southern Philippines. The violence has been targeted at trade unionists, peasant organizers and rights groups.

Earlier this year, the ATC further escalated tensions with the communist group after they tagged prominent peace consultants as terrorists. 19 individuals, which included peace consultants of the NDF who were under arrest, were deemed as terrorists by the agency.

While peace negotiations had broken down under different governments before and the CPP and its armed guerilla have been designated as terrorists, the NDF continued to operate overground and JASIG-protected peace consultants were not targeted as militants or terrorists.

According to Bulatlat, families of these peace consultants have also complained of being targeted by the government, which froze their bank accounts and other very limited financial assets. These frozen financial assets included compensation money granted to the consultants and their families for human rights violations inflicted by the government.

While the NDF has nearly two weeks to challenge the terror tag in the courts, the government could still move ahead to freeze assets and funding of the organization until the court intervenes. The publishing of the ATC resolution also comes at a time when the Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging the constitutionality of the ATA. The petitioners include those who have been later deemed as terrorists.

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