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Justice Antonio T. Carpio (Ret.)

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Are CPP-NPA rebels terrorists?

After signing the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) into law, President Duterte declared that the CPP-NPA “are terrorists because I have finally declared them to be one.” Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the principal author of the ATA, reacted that under the ATA “only the Court of Appeals can order proscription — not the Anti-Terrorism Council, nor the President.” Proscription means the designation of a group or association as engaged in the crime of terrorism.

Mr. Duterte and Lacson are both sadly mistaken, because under the ATA rebels are not terrorists and cannot be declared as terrorists. First, in defining terrorism the ATA deleted all the predicate crimes, like rebellion and coup d’etat, listed in the definition of terrorism in the Human Security Act of 2007 (HSA). The crime of terrorism in the ATA is now a separate and distinct stand-alone crime, unlike in the HSA where the predicate crimes, like rebellion and coup d’etat, were the means of committing the crime of terrorism. In Lagman v. Medialdea, the Supreme Court ruled that under the HSA rebellion is absorbed in terrorism because rebellion is one of the predicate crimes of terrorism. This is no longer the case since the ATA has repealed and replaced the HSA.

Second, the ATA has been carefully worded “to differentiate terrorism from coup d’etat, rebellion, and sedition.” This is clearly shown in the Senate deliberations on the ATA. “Senator Drilon: We are proposing to delete the phrase ‘or the public to do or to abstain from doing any act’ as this phrase makes it difficult to distinguish this with political crimes under the Revised Penal Code. We repeat that, Mr. President, the use of the phrase ‘or the public to do or to abstain from doing any act’ will make this also an act of rebellion. And, therefore, the amendments are aimed to differentiate terrorism from coup d’etat, rebellion, and sedition. That is the only purpose, Mr. President. xxx. The President: All right. So, what does the sponsor say? Senator Lacson: It is accepted, subject to style because of the comma (,). The President: Is there any objection? [Silence] There being none, the amendment is approved.”

Third, under the ATA, whether an act is rebellion, coup d’etat, or terrorism depends on the intent of the person committing the offense. This is clear from the Senate deliberations: “Senator Hontiveros: Earlier, the good sponsor discussed with the Minority Leader the RAM or the Reform the Armed Forces Movement or even in an earlier administration, itinuturing na terrorist movement. Senator Lacson: Iba po iyong intent. Kasi iyong Reform the Armed Forces Movement, ang intent nila is to overthrow and it is a criminal act called coup d’etat. So, iba po iyon. So, we will just go back to the definition of a terrorist act, Mr. President.

“Senator Hontiveros: At hindi rin naman po na-contemplate ng good sponsor na ang isang grupo katulad ng Magdalo Group ay masama sa definition ng terrorist group sa bill na ito. Senator Lacson: Ang jurisprudence naman po rito ay iyong Lagman vs. Medialdea. May mga existing naman pong Supreme Court rulings na puwede nating gawing reference, Mr. President. Senator Hontiveros: Thank you, Mr. President.” Clearly, the intent determines whether the acts constitute rebellion, coup d’etat, or terrorism.

Fourth, the House of Representatives adopted entirely, without amendment or discussion, the Senate version of the anti-terrorism bill. This means that the House also adopted the intent and interpretation of the Senate of the provisions of the anti-terrorism bill.

There can be no dispute that the ATA does not criminalize as terrorism acts that constitute rebellion. If the acts constitute rebellion, then the crime committed will be rebellion and not terrorism. The intent of rebels is to remove any territory or military force of the Philippines from allegiance to the Government or its laws, or to deprive the President or Congress of any of their powers. The intent of terrorists is to intimidate the public and the Government, create fear, or destabilize the political, economic, and social structure of the country.

CPP-NPA rebels, whose intent is clearly rebellion, are not terrorists under the ATA, and consequently they, individually or as a group, cannot be proscribed as terrorists under the ATA.

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