THE Philippine government is putting more than 600 people – among them a United Nations human rights expert and dozens of leftist activists – at risk of attack by labelling them on a terrorist watch list, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
According to the rights group, a petition filed in a Manila court dated February 21, 2018, lists the people as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) – groups that have been declared “terrorist” bodies.
The petition said the rebels were “using acts of terror” to sow fear and panic to overthrow the government.
“Government accusations that international human rights experts have links to the NPA seek to undermine the valuable work they do to promote accountability for rights abuses,” Asia division researcher for HRW Carlos Conde said in a statement.
The group accused the Philippine Justice Department of sanctioning a “virtual government hit list,” saying that there is a history in the country of the state security forces and pro-government militias assassinating people labelled as NPA members or supporters.
President Rodrigo Duterte previously enjoyed a good relationship with the communist movement, freeing some of the movement’s leaders when he took office in July 2016 to show his commitment to resolving the five-decade conflict.
But the peace process was called off in November after what Duterte called repeated attacks by the NPA during talks.
Since the breakdown of talks, the president has openly vented his fury at the group, saying that he considers them a risk to national security on the same level as pro-Islamic State militants.
The petition will allow government to monitor listed “terrorists” more closely, track finances and curb access to resources, among other measures.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, appointed in 2014 as UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, called her appearance on the list, “baseless, malicious and irresponsible.”
Four former Catholic priests were also named in the case, listed along with 18 top leaders of the communist party, including founder Jose Maria Sison.
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.”
HRW called on the Duterte administration to “publicly reject this petition and ensure the safety of those listed in it – or risk being complicit in the resulting crimes.”
Additional reporting by Reuters