Filipino rights defenders to UN experts: Look into use of terror laws vs dev’t workers

Geneva, Switzerland — Philippine UPR Watch conveners namely the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and KARAPATAN, thru the Philippine UPR Watch, have asked four UN Special Rapporteurs – on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, on freedom of opinion and expression, on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and on the right to development – to look into the increasing number of cases on the “weaponization” of counter terrorism legislations against development workers in the Philippines.

Through letters of allegations submitted to the rapporteurs while a delegation of human rights defenders are currently in Geneva to participate in the 56th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the independent experts were informed on the freezing of bank accounts and/or trumped up terrorism financing cases against Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET), Leyte Center for Development (LCDe), Citizens’ Disaster Response Center Foundation (CDRC) and Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG), as well as the arbitrary designation of leaders of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA).

“The sinister motives in the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Law (Republic Act No. 11479) and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Law (Republic Act No. 10168) are now in full view. These laws are now being used to derail and halt the humanitarian delivery of services to poor communities affected by calamities and military operations through these attacks against development workers and their institutions,” said Atty. Maria Sol Taule, KARAPATAN legal counsel and co-head of the Philippine UPR Watch delegation.

“These institutions provide essential and life-saving services and aid for poor and distressed rural communities, which are often neglected or disregarded by the Philippine government, and now they are being systematically targeted. Through these attacks against development NGOs, the Philippine government is denying rural and poor communities with basic services which they fail to provide,” she added.

CDRC, for instance, has provided food aid, emergency response, rehabilitation support and capacity building for disaster preparedness and mitigation measures for more than 11 million beneficiaries, since 1984, and is known to have pioneered community-based disaster management in the Philippines. In the first four months after typhoon Haiyan, LCDe has provided at least 23,000 families in Eastern Visayas with food, shelter kits, mats, blankets and cash as emergency aid and has enabled the construction of houses and provision of livelihood support.

KARAPATAN observed a significant increase in the use of these laws against activists and development workers. At least 112 human rights defenders face or have faced trumped-up criminal complaints or charges under the counter terror laws.

“These charges are based on perjured testimonies drawn up from the scripts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and the Anti-Terrorism Council. From these, the Anti-Money Laundering Council had ordered the freezing of bank accounts of organizations and individuals, without due process,” Taule said.

“Thus, these trumped up charges should be dismissed and the terror laws should be junked,” she stated.

*Copies of the letters of allegation are available upon request.