Karapatan: Freeze order vs UCCP Haran Center, attacks on church workers “devilish”

Human rights alliance Karapatan contended that the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s (AMLC) order to freeze the assets, bank accounts, and properties of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Center in Davao City for allegations of terrorist financing is “based on flat-out lies,” as the group slammed the Duterte government for “brazenly targeting and persecuting church workers and religious institutions, which have only been working tirelessly to help those in need.”

“How is helping the marginalized especially indigenous peoples an act of financing terrorism? It is utterly deplorable that amid a pandemic, the government is depriving religious institutions ministering humanitarian aid to poor, neglected, and violated sectors and communities of their exercise to serve. Only those with devilish intentions are capable of doing something this shameless and inhuman, especially now,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

For decades, the UCCP Haran Center has provided sanctuary for Lumad communities in Southern Mindanao who have fled their ancestral domains due to military operations in their communities. In a resolution dated March 12, 2021, the AMLC ordered to freeze three bank accounts of the UCCP Haran Center through the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act, after the AMLC’s investigation supposedly found that the center has been financing and recruiting for the New People’s Army.

Palabay, however, sees these recent actions as a “blatant attack to harass and silence the UCCP for standing in solidarity with the struggle of the Lumad and other indigenous peoples in Mindanao for their rights to education and self-determination, and in standing against the military’s abuses and hand in facilitating development aggression in their ancestral domains. How is standing for people’s rights an act of terrorism?”

The UCCP Haran Center has been a target of harassment from State forces. In 2015, the police forcibly entered the UCCP Haran Center compound, hurting a number of elders, followed by several incidents of raids and attempts to break into the sanctuary throughout the years — including a raid attempt January last year. September last year, 48 church workers of the UCCP and their advocates faced wrongful allegations of trafficking, child abuse and violation of international humanitarian law.

The Karapatan official further stated that the AMLC’s “false accusations” of terrorist financing against the UCCP Haran Center are also the same charges faced by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) — whose assets were also frozen by the AMLC upon the orders of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency — “illustrating a clear and systemic pattern of targeting and crippling religious institutions and humanitarian organizations under the guise of counter-terrorism.”

“Accusing the UCCP Haran Center and the RMP of financing terrorism is utterly ridiculous and absurd! With the Anti-Terrorism Act in place along with other measures regulating and constricting the work of civil society organizations, the Duterte government is laying the groundwork to further restrict civic spaces by targeting legitimate organizations critical of government policies and denying their right to resources,” she said.

“Only demons such as the red-taggers in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict can unleash this deplorable scheme to vilify the UCCP Haran Center, the RMP, and other religious institutions and curtail their access to resources and funding — depriving the marginalized of critical support, services, and sanctuary from their humanitarian work especially amid a crisis. End the criminalization and red-tagging of humanitarian work! Hands off church workers!” Palabay ended.