ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia
Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar’s ruling stated that the New People’s Army used violence as a means rather than an end.
Patriotic Youth group protesters gather to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, in Manila, Philippines on March 21, 2018.
Credit: AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File
A court in the Philippine capital Manila has rejected a request by the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing as “terrorist groups”. In a ruling signed Wednesday, Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar in Manila argued that the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), did not meet the necessary criteria to make such a designation.
Among the several reasonings advanced in the ruling was that the groups were engaged in an insurgency rather than terrorism. Another was that the use of violence was their means rather than their end.
“While the armed struggle with the violence that necessarily accompanies it is undoubtedly the approved means to achieve the CPP-NPA’s objectives, means are not synonymous with ends,” the ruling said, according to a report by BenarNews. “Armed struggle is only a means to achieve the purpose of the CPP; it is not the purpose of the establishment of the CPP.”
The ruling added that “while both insurgency and terrorism may involve the use of violence, the violence in insurgency is directed against the government or any part thereof,” rather than being designed “to sow and create a state of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the population.”
The CPP-NPA has been waging an armed struggle against the central government since 1969.
The move is a setback for the DOJ, which filed the petition in 2018. If approved, it would have been granted additional powers to search the bank accounts of members and leaders of the CPP-NPA.
It is a legal victory of equal magnitude for activists and government critics, albeit a somewhat pyrrhic one. As the BenarNews report explains, the DOJ’s first petition cited the Human Security Act of 2007 as its basis — a law that was repealed in 2020 with the Philippines’ passage of the controversial anti-terrorism law. The government can still seek to have the groups declared “terrorists” under this new law, even if it appeals this week’s ruling.
But Magdoza-Malagar’s ruling was important in setting a precedent that any other ruling must take into account. It also raised concerns about “red-tagging,” a practice in which senior officials link political activists with communist rebels and subject them to arrest or violent attacks. Although it does not pose an existential threat to the Philippine government, the persistence of the CPP-NPA insurgency has offered officials a convenient way to smear government critics and discredit movements for social and economic justice.
According to advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW), the practice of “red-tagging” became much more deadly under President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in office from 2016 to last June. Duterte created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, staffed and led by former military officials. According to HRW, the task force engaged in frequent red labeling – of activists, critics and left-wing political leaders – through its social media posts and official statements.
This week’s court order described red labeling as a “harmful practice” that put government critics at risk, and called on the government to show “respect for the right to dissent, to due process and to the rule of law.”