Thursday , June 21, 2018

Malilong: Lessons from a past all-out war

SEN. Panfilo Lacson said President Duterte should have asked the court to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) a terrorist organization instead of just signing a presidential proclamation. That is what the law provides, the senator asserted last Tuesday.

It’s a little awkward when an attorney is lectured by a non-lawyer on the finer points of the law but Lacson was right: the Human Security Act of 2007 assigns the so-called power of proscription exclusively with the regional trial court, acting upon an application of the Department of Justice. No wonder, no one in the Palace has come out to criticize Lacson as they are wont to do in similar circumstances or at least to dispute his assertion.

Instead, yesterday, presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza suggested to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to secure judicial approval of Duterte’s proclamation. Dureza is a former member of the board of governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

That (seeking court ratification) would be like putting the cart before the horse. The language of the law is very clear: Any organization or group that is organized for terrorism or uses terrorist means “shall upon application of the Department of the Justice before a competent Regional Trial Court” be declared as a terrorist and outlawed organization by the said RTC. The law likewise requires that the affected group or organization should be given notice and an opportunity to be heard.

There are, of course, people who do not care for legal niceties. Why wait for the court to say what they and the president already know?

Even CPP founder Jose Maria Sison says he is not bothered by the terrorist tag. “Labeling them as terrorist groups means nothing,” he reportedly declared in an online interview. Implied in that statement is that they’re ready for the all-out war that Duterte threatened to launch against the communist rebels.

On the way to taking war footing, Duterte and Sison had traded insults, the ferocity of which can be topped only by the obscenely entertaining back-and-forth between Donald Trump and Kim Jung-on. I hope it would not come to pass that we would wish that the president and the CPP chairman had limited themselves to their word war instead of unleashing their fighters against each other.

I remember the time when the communist insurgency was at its most active in Cebu. Seldom did a week pass without a policeman or a suspected police asset being assassinated by hitmen from the NPA’s so-called Sparrow Unit. Even off-duty or traffic policemen fell victims as “targets of opportunity.”

On the other side, suspected NPA rebels and supporters (the “masa”) were also hunted down not only by soldiers and policemen but by members of paramilitary units. I remember a case in Gaas, Balamban when an entire family that included young children, was massacred. The police and the NPA, through its front organizations, accused each other of committing the crime.

On the same day the Palace declared the CPP-NPA terrorists, the police in the region cautioned tourists not to stay long in Negros Oriental. It was, I am afraid, portentous of things to come. Sad.