Dr. Naty Castro and the terror of RA 11479 | Inquirer Opinion
Second Opinion

Dr. Naty Castro and the terror of RA 11479

/ 05:13 AM February 10, 2023

Almost three years after it was signed into law, our worst fears about Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, continue to be realized in nefarious and unacceptable ways.

Consider the recent designation of Dr. Maria Natividad “Naty” Castro—by all accounts a respected community physician and human rights defender—as a “terrorist individual” by the Anti-Terrorism Council—a body established by RA 11479. Arrested and spirited away from her home in San Juan City to Mindanao in highly suspicious circumstances in February 2022, Dr. Castro was detained for over 40 days before a court dismissed the case against her, finding that the police violated her right to due process with an arrest that was “repugnant to [her] right to liberty.”

Throughout her ordeal, numerous groups vouched for her; as the Commission on Human Rights stated at the time: “Dra. Naty had been Red-tagged for her work as a human rights and development worker. Before the pandemic hit the country in 2020, Castro initiated several health programs in Mindanao. She also brought members of the lumad community before the United Nations in Geneva to seek help against harassment in their areas. She also once served as secretary general of rights group Karapatan in Caraga region.”


Her exoneration, however, did not stop prosecutors and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict from going after her, and the case against her was reinstated last June. And now, with her designation as a “terrorist,” she faces the risk of further detention and persecution—without being able to avail of the usual constitutional remedies. As a recent letter by religious leaders put it (“Denouncing arbitrary designation of Dr. Naty Castro as a ‘terrorist,’” 2/7/2023):


“Her arbitrary designation as a ‘terrorist individual’ exposes the rotten core of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Not only has Castro been denied due process, but even we, the concerned public, are not able to weigh and measure any alleged evidence against her. Like graffiti on the wall, we are supposed to simply believe what the Anti-Terrorism Council scribbles? We do not!”

Beyond Castro’s case, there are numerous other instances in which RA 11479 is used against journalists, activists, peasant leaders, and ordinary citizens, from the two Aetas, Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, who were “tortured, fed with human feces, and were later charged with violation of Section 4(a) of RA 11479, among other crimes,” according to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, to Tacloban City-based community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and lay worker Mariel Domequil already jailed for years ostensibly for “illegal possession of firearms and explosives” as part of the “Tacloban 5.”


Of course, long before the advent of RA 11479, such individuals and groups have experienced political and legal harassment; the lack of such a law did not stop the arrest of Reina Mae Nasino and the resultant death of—may we never forget—Baby River. What the Anti-Terrorism Act has done is to legalize and expedite such arbitrary acts, while insulating the people behind them from scrutiny and accountability.

In light of these cases, fears raised before the passage of the law—and during the deliberations before the Supreme Court—are prescient. Lawyer Chel Diokno warned that RA 11479 “allows the state to simply presume the existence of intent from the citizen’s acts, even if the acts themselves do not constitute a crime.” Echoing this view, Lawyer Neri Colmenares took issue with the fact that “the law punishes any act, including acts which were perfectly innocent when done, for as long as the Anti-Terrorism Council, acting as roving lawmakers and star chamber judges, imputes vaguely defined terrorist intentions and purposes on the suspect.”

Proponents of the law vowed that there were many safeguards from abuse and overreach. Then Sen. Panfilo Lacson, one of the law’s authors, claimed that “those who violate human rights—including those potentially abusing their authority to implement the law—will be held accountable and liable.”

Unfortunately, like many of the provisions of the law itself—e.g., Section 2—“the State shall uphold the basic rights and fundamental liberties of the people as enshrined in the Constitution”—such promises are proving to be vacuous, powerless to protect the likes of Dr. Naty Castro and prevent what is effectively the criminalization of activism.

RA 11479 has become an instrument of terror—and we must demand nothing less than its repeal.


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TAGS: Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020., Commission on Human Rights, Dr. Naty Castro, panfilo lacson

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