Terrorism-accused UN expert: Duterte wages new war, with ‘new targets’
MANILA, Philippines — As he leads a bloody war on drugs that has left scores dead, President Rodrigo Duterte has started a new battle, with “new targets,” a Filipina United Nations expert whom the government accused of terrorism said.
In a petition filed in a Manila court last month, the Department of Justice said it wants 600 people tagged as terrorists for their alleged links to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.
The petition included UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who had condemned alleged rights abuses in the restive southern island of Mindanao where troops are fighting an Islamic insurgency and Maoist rebels.
The state’s move was strongly criticized by human rights watchdogs, with some describing the court petition as a “virtual hit list.”
In an opinion piece published on the Financial Times, dated March 29, Corpuz said those accused by the government of terrorism have become the “next targets” of vigilantes and rogue cops taking a frontline role in Duterte’s deadly drug war.
“My colleagues insist that my name is on the list in retaliation for speaking out on rights abuses against indigenous peoples on the island of Mindanao,” Corpuz said.
“I am sad to see the Philippines once again slipping towards the fascism that too many other nations have embraced, but I am not ready to give up now, either,” she added.
The targeting of left-wing activists came on the heels of Duterte’s vow to eliminate the communist movement following the collapse of peace talks with rebels.
Aside from the UN advisor, activists like Joanna Patricia Kintanar Cariño, who helped found the Cordillera People's Alliance in 1984 to fight for land rights, are also in the DOJ’s terror list.
Reacting to the case, UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said "it makes one believe that the president of the Philippines needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation."
‘The message will be heard’
Malacañang earlier defended the filing of the 600-person terror watchlist, saying it was not a witch-hunt on UN experts.
The Palace also maintained that based on “intelligence information,” Corpuz was connected to the underground left, adding that the DOJ would not have filed the petition without evidence.
“When I learnt that the Philippine government had accused me of being a terrorist, my immediate reaction was to hug my grandkids, fearing for their safety. Then, I started to speak out. Again,” the Filipina special rapporteur wrote on the Financial Times.
“You can keep shooting the messenger, but you will run out of bullets before we run out of messengers and, at the end of the day, the message will be heard,” she added.
Duterte’s order to declare the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations has raised concerns among activists in the national democratic movement that legitimate organizations could be targeted as supporters of terrorism.
Membership in or support of a national democratic activist organization is not equivalent to affiliation with the communist movement.
By listing groups and individuals as terrorists, the state can freeze and forfeit their properties or funds, among other measures.
The Philippines recorded the highest number of killings related to land conflicts and struggles in 2017 amid a government crackdown on rural communities, according to advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific.