Manila, Philippines — A Philippine court has rejected a government motion to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed guerrilla wing a terrorist organization in a decision officials have vowed to appeal but which has been welcomed by activists who have long rejected labeling rebels as terrorists.
Manila Regional Court Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar’s decision, signed on Wednesday, is a legal victory for activists and government critics and a setback for security officials, who have long accused left-wing organizations of secretly serving from legal fronts to Maoist guerrillas.
The court called on the government to fight the communist insurgency, one of the longest running in Asia, with “respect for the right to dissent, due process and the rule of law”. He raised concerns about “red labeling” or the link between militants and insurgents, which he said was a “pernicious practice” that puts critics of the government at risk.
“While rebellion and terrorism may involve the use of violence, violence in rebellion is directed against the government or part of it,” the court said in the 135-page decision. “Rebels in a rebellion always target agents of the state such as the army or the police.”
“Terrorism, on the other hand, is directed against the civilian population with the intent to induce extraordinary and widespread fear and panic in the civilian population,” the court said.
Renato Reyes of Bayan, an alliance of left-wing groups, said: “Labelling revolutionaries and those engaged in peace negotiations as ‘terrorists’ is wrong, counterproductive and undermines any possibility of a political settlement of the armed conflict. “.
Emmanuel Salamat, a retired marine general who heads a government task force helping oversee efforts to end the decades-long insurgency, told reporters he was saddened by the court’s decision. because the rebels have committed acts of terrorism, including murder, for many decades.
“It’s like ignoring the sacrifices of our troops, the front-liners on the pitch, our heroes who gave their lives,” he said. He cited the United States and other countries that have listed the rebel New People’s Army as a terrorist organization.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the government would appeal.
The court assessed nine separate deadly attacks and acts of violence, including the burning of a chapel and rural houses in a province, which government witnesses said were carried out by communist guerrillas in the south of the country of 2019 to 2020. But he questioned the witnesses. identifying the attackers as rebels based on their black combat uniforms and firearms.
The court also said any fear the attacks may have aroused may have been confined to the communities where they occurred and had not reached the “widespread” and “extraordinary” panic of a terrorist attack described by law. filipina. “The nine incidents of atrocity fall into the category of small hit-and-run attacks and sporadic acts of violence without specified victims or targets,” the court said. He said authorities had failed to establish that the attacks were carried out to coerce the government into giving in to a demand, a key element of terrorism as specified in the law.
The Maoist rebel force was established in 1969 with only around 60 armed fighters in the northern region of the country, but it has gradually grown and spread across the country.
Battle setbacks, surrenders and infighting, however, have weakened the guerrilla group, which remains a major threat to national security. The rebellion left around 40,000 combatants and civilians dead and hampered economic development in provincial regions, where the military says a few thousand insurgents are still active.