Lawyer: Duterte threat to go after NPA 'legal fronts' will lead to 'more vicious' violations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 28) — A human rights lawyer rejected on Saturday President Rodrigo's threat to go after all "legal fronts" of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People's Army (NPA).

In a statement, National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) President Edre Olalia said Duterte's threats could possibly stifle democratic processes in the country.

"Such reckless threats are legally questionable and worse, will erupt in even more vicious and wholesale violations and would also constrict whatever democratic breathing space there is left," he said.

The statement comes after Duterte on Saturday said he would finish off the NPA, which he called the "enemies of state."

"I will go after the legal fronts," said the President. "Hindi kami torpe.  I was once also handling an organ of the Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy. 'Yun 'yung Karapatan ngayon (That's the group Karapatan)."

Karapatan is an alliance of human rights organizations in the Philippines.

Duterte further said he is waiting for the Supreme Court to declare the rebel group as terrorists.

Under the Human Security Act, the Justice Department must first seek clearance from the court before an organization or group of persons can be declared as terrorists.

READ: How peace talks with communist rebels failed

However, Olalia, who also serves as a legal consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), said Duterte's statements were "disturbing and distressing."

He said what constitutes as "terrorist" under the law is legally problematic.

"It undermines a slew of basic rights. It effectively undermines on vague grounds the political expression of even legal and legitimate organizations and associations," he said.

Olalia added the President's statement could also "penalize" the public's right to free speech, association, and assembly.

"The label 'legal fronts' is such a subjective and malicious description of unarmed legitimate organizations who have their own membership, advocacies, platforms and methods separate and distinct from what they are supposedly 'fronting' for," said Olalia.

Duterte officially terminated peace talks with the communist rebels in November last year, citing violent attacks by the NPA. It was the first time in 18 years that peace talks were terminated.

The communist insurgency in the Philippines is Asia's longest-running armed struggle. It has spanned nearly half a century, since the CPP was founded in 1968 by then student activist and Duterte's former professor, Jose Ma. Sison.