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Renewed call to end Canada’s support for the Philippine Government’s anti-terrorism Campaign

This letter was originally sent to Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly via e-mail on July 21st, 2023.

Montréal, July 21st, 2023

The Honourable Minister Mélanie Joly, P.C., M.P. Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Re: Renewed call to end Canada’s support for the Philippine Government’s anti-terrorism campaign

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-Canada) brings to your attention the case of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA). On June 7, 2023, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) arbitrarily designated four CPA leaders, Windel Bolinget, Jennifer Awingan, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, and Stephen Tauli as “terrorist individuals”, via Resolution No. 41.

The CPA and its leaders have been the target of sustained red-tagging campaigns since the 2000s, which have intensified following the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in 2017 and the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Law in 2020:
● Since 2017, Sarah Abellon-Alikes has been a subject of trumped-up charges of arson, robbery, illegal possession of ammunition and 14 counts of attempted homicide which have been all dismissed at the court and prosecutorial level.
Windel Bolinget was included in the Department of Justice 2018 terrorist proscription list, but was later removed. In 2021, he was subjected to a “shoot to kill order” after he was falsely charged of murder. The charges were later dismissed.
Stephen Tauli was abducted in August 2022 and tortured before he was released.
Jennifer Awingan was arrested in January 2023 on trumped-up charges of rebellion and insurrection which were also dismissed. Her daughter, a labour organizer, was also arrested in October 2022 under similarly arbitrary and false charges.
● In January 2023, the four were accused, along with 3 other Cordillera and Ilocos-based activists, in a trumped-up rebellion case. The charges were subsequently dismissed in May 2023.

We are concerned that the Anti-Terrorism Council is resorting to designation to curtail the human rights and movements of these individuals, after judicial harassment has failed. The designation sets them up for possible warrantless arrests, detention without charges, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

The Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) is an alliance of Indigenous people’s organizations which promote and defend Indigenous people’s rights, welfare and democracy. Canadian churches and other organizations who are members of ICHRP have worked in partnership with CPA for decades. CPA and its leaders, including Bolinget, Awingan, Abellon-Alikes and Tauli are neither leaders nor members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army, which were declared terrorist organizations by the Duterte government in 2018.

ICHRP is once again calling on the Canadian government to end its financial, programmatic and technical support for the anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaign of the Philippine Government. President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is continuing the policy of the past Duterte administration who weaponized the fight against terrorism into a tool of repression against citizens who dissent, including human rights defenders.

By continuing to support the Philippine Government’s anti-terrorism campaign, Canada is enhancing the capacity of the Philippine Government to weaponize the law and legal institutions against human rights defenders and other Philippine citizens who promote and defend human rights and democracy such as the CPA. From 2017-2021, Canada funded a program for ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, for anti-money laundering and to combat the financing of terrorism by providing training to relevant institutions. We regret that the Canadian Government chose to ignore ICHRP’s call to exclude the Philippines from the program. In 2021, the Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council froze the bank accounts of two church-related service organizations based on false accusations that they were providing financial support to the New People’s Army.

Similarly, the bank accounts of CPA and its leaders had been frozen following the ATC terrorist designation. On July 4, 2023, President Marcos issued Executive Order 33 that included counter proliferation financing in the National Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing Terrorism Strategy. This will only lead to the increased use of the Anti-Money Laundering Council to stifle the work of non-governmental and human rights organizations by freezing their bank accounts.

We are, therefore, deeply concerned by the announcement of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melanie Joly, and the Memorandum of Agreement she signed with the Philippine Government that Canada would enhance defence and security cooperation with the Philippines which only would result to the escalation of attacks on civilians, including human rights defenders, who are regarded by the Philippine Government as threats to national security.

We call on the Canadian Government to:
● Call on the Philippine Government to revoke the Anti-Terrorism Council’s Resolution No. 41 which designated the leaders of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, Windel Bolinget, Jennifer Awingan, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, and Stepnen Tauli, as terrorists and to unfreeze the bank accounts of CPA and of these four leaders;
● Make the information about the Memorandum of Agreement signed by Minister Joly with the Philippine Government and the related funding, programmatic and technical support committed by the Canadian Government available to the public;
● End all funding, programmatic and technical support for the Philippine Government’s anti-terrorism campaign.

Sincerely yours,

The Reverend Doctor Patricia M. Lisson
Chairperson of ICHRP-Canada