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Philippines seeks “terrorist” tag for 600 alleged communist guerrillas

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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison

MANILA, March 8 (Reuters) – A U.N. special rapporteur, a former Philippine lawmaker and four former Catholic priests are among more than 600 alleged communist guerrillas the Philippines wants declared “terrorists”, according to a government petition filed in court.

The justice ministry last month said it wanted a Manila court to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), “terrorist” bodies, but made no mention of individuals it would also target.

The petition, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, suggests President Rodrigo Duterte is following through on his threats to destroy a movement he now regards as duplicitous.

Within weeks of taking office in July 2016, Duterte freed some communist leaders and put leftists in his cabinet, to show his commitment to finding a permanent solution to a five-decade conflict.
But he abandoned the process in November, after what he called repeated attacks by the NPA during talks.

The petition said the rebels were “using acts of terror” to sow fear and panic to overthrow the government.

Duterte has been venting his fury at the Maoists almost on a daily basis and considers them as much of a security threat as a plethora of domestic Islamist militant groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

By declaring the groups and individuals terrorists, the government would be able to monitor them more closely, track finances and curb access to resources, among other measures.

The petition included Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, appointed in 2014 as U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, who was listed as a senior member of the Maoist rebel group.
In a statement, Tauli-Corpuz denounced the government for including her on the list of those to be declared “terrorists”, calling the allegations “baseless, malicious and irresponsible”.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, head of the U.N. Human Rights Council, defended the independence, impartiality and expertise of special rapporteurs in the face of smear and hate campaigns, some involving incitement to violence.

“Instead of attacking the messenger, states and other stakeholders should engage and address the human rights concerns raised by mandate-holders,” he said in Geneva.

Four former Catholic priests were also named in the case, including Frank Fernandez, whom the government said was an NPA leader in the central Philippines. There was no immediate comment from Fernandez.

The petition included 18 top leaders of the communist party as central committee members, including founder Jose Maria Sison and peace negotiator Luis Jalandoni, both based in the Netherlands for three decades.

There was no basis for the charge of terrorism, said Sison, who was a mentor of Duterte when he was at university, although the two are now bitter rivals.
“Duterte is engaged in a wild anti-communist witchhunt under the guise of anti-terrorism,” he said. “Duterte is truly the No. 1 terrorist in the Philippines.”

Duterte’s spokesman did not immediately respond to telephone and text messages from Reuters to seek comment.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the Maoist rebellion. Negotiations to end the revolt have been on and off since being brokered by Norway in 1986.
Also on the list was former congressman Satur Ocampo, who faces a criminal case over the murder of suspected military spies in the communist movements in the 1980s.
Ocampo told Reuters he would challenge any “terrorist” label.

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