Religious groups reject terrorism financing charges

Last week, the Justice Department announced that it had filed 55 counts of “financing terrorism” in Iligan City Regional Trial Court against four nuns and a dozen others associated with the Missionaries. rural areas of the Philippines-North Mindanao region (RMP-RMN).

This is the first criminal case filed by the DOJ under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration, for alleged violations of Section 8 of the Terrorist Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 (RA 10168) , involving religious missionaries and the 53-year-old left. revolutionary movement.

If proven in court beyond a reasonable doubt, the charges would result in each defendant receiving a life sentence and a fine of at least 500,000 pesos but more than 1 million pesos. No surety is allowed.

It had found ‘probable cause’ to charge the 16 people, the DOJ said, based solely on the complaint filed by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which investigated the RMP-NMR bank accounts. based on the affidavits of two alleged former members of the CPP-NPA. The AMLC has ordered the freezing of bank accounts since 2019.

The DOJ claimed that none of the 16 respondents submitted a counter affidavit during the preliminary investigation of the AMLC complaint.

Curiously, when reporters routinely asked for a copy of the indictments, they were refused. A DOJ official simply cited “privacy” as the reason for not releasing the document to the public. A newspaper editorial, however, noted that the DOJ “wasted no time in publicizing the filing of the charges against the nuns and branding the RMP as a funder of terrorist groups.”

On August 18, the RMP issued a statement denying the charges. He also questioned the credibility and motives of the DOJ/ALMC witnesses against them.

“Why is the government – especially from Duterte to Marcos II – determined to use all the resources at its disposal to permanently shut down rural missionaries in the Philippines?” asked for the statement.

“The DOJ charges are based on the testimony of two so-called surrenders,” he pointed out, adding, “Based on information obtained by the RMP, one of the two was presented as a former member of the NPA after authorities arrested her mother.In exchange for her mother’s release, she executed a false statement accusing RMP members of funneling funds to the CPP-NPA.

Stating that they had done nothing wrong, the RMP explained that its projects had undergone “rigorous screening, monitoring and auditing processes by the respective donors, such as the European Union, the United Nations and many others”. He ensured that RMP “complies with the requirements for obtaining funds for their projects, including audits”.

Various programs in sustainable agriculture, rural schools, disaster risk reduction, health services, human rights advocacy and organic agriculture are among the ministries undertaken by rural missionaries. Thus, they work primarily with peasants, indigenous peoples and other rural poor residing in hard-to-reach areas. The “demonization” campaign carried out by the authorities against them has harmed their plans.

Coming to their defence, five bishops signed a statement by the Ecumenical Episcopal Forum (EBF) denouncing the accusations against the nuns as “baseless and fabricated” and aimed “eventually at forcing them to abandon their mission”.

“The RMP has been fulfilling its mission for decades, already helping poor peasants and indigenous peoples in their struggle for fullness of life, justice, peace and human rights,” attested the EBF. “They have empowered these sectors to fight against systemic repression and oppression instigated by big business interests in line with the government’s anti-people and anti-democratic policies and laws.”

The bishops ended their statement with a call to drop the charges against the RMP and its affiliates. They also called for the repeal of RA 10168 and other unjust laws.

For its part, the National Council of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) denounced the inclusion in the charges of its national auditor and secretary general of the Union of People’s Lawyers of Mindanao.

Citing independent verifications and reviews by PMR funding agencies such as the European Union, NUPL described the accusations as “baseless and false…” based on “the simple saying of polluted and ill-motivated sources and a prejudiced examination of the subject”. [bank] accounts.”

“From our perspective, this is not just a weaponization of the law, but a weaponization against the very lawyers who fight against such insidious policy and practice.” NUPL has pledged to support its accused colleague “in all forums”, as it has done for “persecuted clients” and “attacked colleagues whose only crime is to serve the interests and well-being of the people with altruism and valour”.

Founded in 1969, the RMP was one of the missionary partners of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), who carried out their missionary work in the countryside in difficult and perilous situations during the Marcos dictatorship.

Last month AMRSP was reorganized into the Conference of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (CMSP). He released this statement posted on the website of the Philippine Catholic Bishops’ Conference:

“Some of our ranks were marked in red; irresponsible labels and name-calling will not scare us. Serving God’s people is never wrong.

Urging its members to persevere in their missions, the CMSP declared:

“Let us go to the margins and peripheries, the new frontiers and spheres of our missionary presence – socio-economic, political, religious, cultural and technological – and serve the vulnerable and the depressed.

” We commit ourselves [to] work to dismantle unjust structures in society and in their place help to build new ones in a spirit of reconciliation, justice and peace, as required by our Christian faith.

“As a Church, we are challenged by our present time and context to stand up for the truth…The Church will not and cannot be neutral on moral and ethical issues and concerns.”

It seems that another conflict is brewing between the religious sector and the authorities. This disturbing situation has arisen because the Duterte regime has abandoned respect for international humanitarian law and adopted a counterterrorism framework in its counterinsurgency program, which the current regime has apparently embraced with alacrity.

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E-mail: [email protected]

Jerry B. Hatch