SC's decision may not be enough to prevent another Gurung-Ramos case.
LILAK, together with its Indigenous women partners and their communities, acknowledges the decision of the Supreme Court in declaring some portions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as unconstitutional. However, as one of the 37 petitioners who contested the law, we express fear and discontentment that the decision of the Supreme Court still upholds the repressive law. The mere existence of the terror law spells more thorns in the lives and struggles of indigenous women and their communities.
How meaningful is this decision to the continuing killings when the core issues remain - the designation of who are considered as terrorists, the prolonged detention, and the continuing killings - is it enough to prevent another Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos case? We fear not.
The ATA passage in 2020 saw the warrantless arrest, and the reported torture of two Aeta men – Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos. The two, along with two other minor indigenous women, were detained while fleeing their community in Zambales because of the bombings and military operations. They were the first to be charged under this law. The court later dropped the case, and both were released after almost a year of detention. The victims of this unlawful arrest cannot file for damages as the provision doesn’t allow it.
While we recognize that the state obligation of ensuring the country has adequate and modern protection from global threats of terrorism, the danger lies with who implements the law and who they consider as “terrorists”. Under the Duterte administration, anyone who stands critical and opposes its violent programs and policies is considered a threat and is subject to red-tagging.
The indigenous peoples have been at the center of this dangerous mindset. For asserting their rights to their ancestral domain, and defending their lands from large-scale extractive projects, the government easily targets the IPs. This controversial law is designed to silence critics, adds more thorns to their existing struggle for their land, and their survival. Even before the introduction of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the Duterte government has accused indigenous leaders, who are defenders of the environment and natural resources of being enemies of the state.
It has been said those who have less in life have more in law. But the ATA has lessened whatever protection the IPs have in the defense of their rights. The case of Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos showed us this clearly. This decision has made us even firmer in our stand that these coming elections should pave the way for a more just, human rights-centered governance, and leaders with a genuine heart for indigenous peoples. We need to trump down the comeback of Marcos-Duterte, and any forms of this evil tandem.