UCA News

Uproar over terror charge against Filipino activists

Fritz Jay Labiano and Adrian Paul Tagle are among 91 activists and Catholic workers facing charges under anti-terror law
Filipino activists Fritz Jay Labiano and Adrian Paul Tagle are seen in this file image. They are facing charges under the country's stringent anti-terror law.

Filipino activists Fritz Jay Labiano and Adrian Paul Tagle are seen in this file image. They are facing charges under the country's stringent anti-terror law. (Photo: Taggol Quezon Facebook page)

Published: April 30, 2024 11:41 AM GMT
Updated: April 30, 2024 12:02 PM GMT

Rights activists and environmentalists have expressed dismay over slapping terror charges on two Filipino activists, terming it an example of muzzling dissent and crackdown on rights-based activism in the country.

Fritz Jay Labiano and Adrian Paul Tagle have been charged with violating the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012, media reports say.

Labiano is the coordinator of the rights group Kabataan Partylist in Quezon province, and Tagle is the coordinator of Tanggol Quezon, an advocacy group. If convicted, they face life imprisonment.

The government made the terror charges public on April 8, but the exact date of the charges was not revealed. Activists began reacting only this week. 

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, called the terror charges "ridiculous," adding that this recent development against the two activists "is but the latest act by the State to criminalize human rights work and demonize activism."

“Both Tagle and Labiano have been providing paralegal services and other forms of humanitarian assistance to political prisoners,” Palabay told UCA News on April 28.

The charges against the two stemmed from a complaint filed by the Philippine military after they were accused of giving 500 pesos (US$9), drinking water, and food items to two female political detainees – Rowena Dasig and Miguela Piniero.

Dasig, a community health worker, and Piniero, a youth volunteer, were arrested on July 12, 2023, and detained at the Atimonan Municipal Police Station in Quezon Province, in the central part of Luzon. 

They were detained after the military ‘red-tagged’ them for allegedly being members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, designated a terrorist organization by the government.

The military also claimed weapons, ammunition, and explosive devices were confiscated from them during the raid.

Piniero was accused as “the one who led the ambushes and killings of the military and Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit or a paramilitary auxiliary force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and former rebels who have returned to the government side.”

Red-tagging is a collective term coined by the state agencies to vilify and punish communist members and supporters, rights groups say.

“The accusation that offering necessities like water and food to detained activists constitutes terrorism financing is absurd and unjust,” said Palabay, while saying the charges “misuse the law to silence dissent.”

The government has been misusing terror laws to target rights activists, Kabataan Partylist Quezon said in a statement on April 27.

“These fabricated charges against youth activists and human rights advocates are clear manifestations of how dangerous red-tagging and terror-tagging against the youth are,” the group said.

The law is "weaponized to silence and instill fear among those who call for equality, justice, and peace,” it added.

The indictment of young activists “comes as a shock, as both individuals were unaware that complaints had been filed against them until a preliminary investigation resolution was released on April 8, recommending criminal charges,” said Charm Maranan, spokesperson for the rights group called, Defend Southern Tagalog.

“Providing services to political prisoners is not a terrorist act nor is it criminal,” Maranan was quoted as saying by the online news site Bulatlat on April 27.

Department of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that the Anti-Terrorism Council “is cognizant of the concerns of some individuals, groups of persons, organizations, or associations, particularly trade unions and labor organizations, about being labeled as or linked to terrorists without having been designated as such by the ATC.”

“The ATC remains steadfast in exercising its exclusive authority to designate terrorists within the bounds of law and with full respect for human rights, including those of laborers or workers,” added Remulla in a public statement on April 29.

Palabay said Labiano and Tagle are among the 91 activists and Catholic workers who have been charged with violating the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

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