Karapatan hits DND, AFP for maliciously tagging religious and aid groups as “legal fronts”

Human rights group Karapatan expresses its deep concern over the recent presentation made by the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which tagged various religious and humanitarian organizations as fronts of the “Communist Terrorist Group.”
On Tuesday, November 5, while presenting the AFP Modernization Program in a hearing at the House of Representatives, Major General Reuben Basiao, AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, has blatantly tagged the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; OXFAM sa Pilipinas and numerous international NGOs; Citizens’ Disaster Response Center; Cordillera’s People Alliance; Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc.; Timpuyog ti Mannalon ti Kalinga; Ilocos Center for Research, Empowerment and Development; Tumandoc; Disac-Kalibo; Cordillera Indigenous Peoples’ Law Center; Cagayan Valley Disaster and Response Center; Farmers Development Center; Katinnulong Dagiti Umili ti Amianan; Regional Development Center - Northern Luzon; Regional Development Center - Cagayan Valley; Leyte Center for Development and Education; Tarabang Para sa Bicol; Alay Bayan Incorporated; Community Empowerment Resource Network and Gabriela Women’s Party as front organizations of the Communist movement.

“The accusations made at the House of Representatives by military officials are baseless, mere hearsay that will justify their impending attacks on organizations. These humanitarian and religious organizations have a long and solid record of providing services to disaster-stricken and marginalized areas. Instead of acknowledging their efforts to reach out to as many Filipinos, this ungrateful and paranoid government views these advocacy groups as threats. It is useful to remember that during disaster situations where government was riddled with corruption and efficiency, it was these organizations who mobilized as first responders to victim-survivors,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

The NCCP, for instance, has also consistently supported victims of rights violations and human rights defenders. “Such statements of the DND and AFP are also forms of reprisals on these organizations’ advocacies for human rights and people’s rights,” she added. 

Palabay emphasized that the series of raids and crackdown of organizations started with the very same red-tagging and malicious campaigns, peddled by the same actors. “This government policy and practice puts organizations at risk. The false allegations by the DND and the AFP are unfounded, and we condemn this new malicious campaign targeting a new set of advocacy groups. If pressed for proof, they will likely refer to paid witnesses, lies, ancient documents or videos or some other ludicrous and twisted justification,” she added.

According to the Karapatan official, the malicious and baseless tagging is part of the Duterte regime’s preposterous effort to discredit the work of religious and civil society organizations: “This is indicative of the shrinking civic space in the country. Despite its inadequacies, this government acts like it has the monopoly of providing aid to individuals and communities. Truly, they have the main obligation to do so, but these advocacy and humanitarian groups exist precisely to suuplement the gaps of government support. We stand in solidarity with the organizations red-tagged by the military.”

Palabay also mentioned the case of areas in Mindanao where victims of the earthquakes were reprimanded for raising placards to beg for food in the streets, with the government going as far as to threaten people with arrests. “Not only are humanitarian organizations targeted, but even the people whom they respond to. This is truly the work of an insecure government that desperately wants to eliminate reflections of the reality on the ground -- people in poverty who are further repressed and oppressed by social ills in the country,” she explained.

“In sum, this harassment of religious and humanitarian groups is tantamount to the denial of the people’s right to receive humanitarian assistance,” she said.

It can be noted that prior to the malicious tagging that transpired at the House hearing, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also ordered more stringent checkpoints and scrutiny of aid workers in quake-hit Mindanao by insisting that it is under Martial Law. According to Palabay, these incidents prove how merciless this regime can be: “The Duterte regime is unilaterally and brazenly using its power to deprive Filipinos of services that humanitarian organizations can provide. Martial Law in Mindanao and other existing repressive policies show how Duterte and his lapdogs prioritize violations and militarism than genuine service for the people.”

“We condemn the AFP and the DND for harassing these organizations and putting their frontline workers at risk. During this period of ongoing crackdown against red-tagged organizations, this new accusation against humanitarian and religious groups should be cause for alarm. We call on all international and national organizations who know the work of these red-tagged groups, all church members of red-tagged church alliances, and all communities who were tapped by these organizations: let us stand together to defy these new waves of repression,” Palabay concluded.