Two indigenous Aetas, Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, are the first persons being charged with terrorism under the Duterte government’s Anti-Terror Law of 2020. Gurung and Ramos, together with two other female Aetas, are also facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and have been in detention since August 2020.
The four Aetas were arrested together with two children and Ramos’ father within their ancestral domain in San Marcelino town, Zambales province in Central Luzon on 31 August 2020 by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 7th Infantry Division. They were arrested while fleeing the AFP bombing of their community. They were subsequently accused of being members of the New People’s Army, of killing an AFP soldier, then detained on charges of terrorism and possession of firearms and explosives.
Speaking for the accused, volunteer defense lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers say they were tortured to force admissions that they are NPA members. Gurung attested that he was mauled, placed in a sack and hung upside down, suffocated with a plastic bag and forced to eat his own feces by his AFP captors. All accused maintain their innocence.
On 31 January 2021, the NUPL discussed with Gurung and Ramos the possibility of signing a petition for intervention to the Supreme Court, in relation to the 37 petitions pending at the Supreme Court to declare the Anti -Terror Law unconstitutional. It was considered that should the Supreme Court strike down the law as unconstitutional, the ‘terrorist’ charges against the two Aetas can then be dismissed.
Duterte security and prosecution officials, however, accused the NUPL of forcing and bribing the detainees to sign the petition of intervention. The two, according to Duterte officials, have since withdrawn the petition and requested the Public Attorneys’ Office and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to represent them instead of the NUPL.
In the meantime, Gurung, Ramos and the two female Aetas remain in detention, their cases pending in a local court in Olongapo City in Central Luzon. Their ancestral domain in San Marcelino town remains occupied by AFP armed elements.
Aeta community leaders claim the militarization of the area is meant to pave the way for mining explorations of the Dizon Copper-Silver Mines, Inc, which their communities oppose.