KARAPATAN denounces freezing of Leyte NGO’s bank accounts

Human rights alliance KARAPATAN decried the recent freezing of the bank accounts of a multi-awarded development non-government organization based in Leyte province.

In an order dated May 2, 2024, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) ordered the Tacloban branches of PSBank and Metropolitan Bank to freeze the accounts of the Leyte Center for Development Inc. (LCDe), as well as the personal bank accounts of its executive director and members of its staff.

LCDe is a 36-year old development NGO based in Palo, Leyte that has won numerous awards for assisting poor and marginalized communities in Eastern Visayas, especially in disaster preparedness and response. Its funds are sourced from private donors and at least seven countries, and it has partnered with 23 local government units in Samar and Leyte.

According to the AMLC, its freeze order stems from alleged findings that LCDe executive director Jazmin Jerusalem and her staff had been providing funds to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA). The AMLC also claimed that Jerusalem and the LCDe staff had earlier been designated as a “terrorist group/individual,” though no public information is available attesting to this designation.

“This is yet another example of the arbitrariness and anti-poor character of the Anti-Terrorism Council’s (ATC) designation of persons or groups as ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorist financiers’,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. “This time, the ATC is focusing on LCDe which has long been providing much- needed assistance to the most impoverished rural communities of Samar and Leyte and had many times been acclaimed for it’s work, even by the Department of National Defense,” added Palabay.

“By freezing its accounts, the ATC has effectively sabotaged the LCDe ‘s projects in these communities and deprived them of the services that the LCDe has been providing,” she said.

“As in other cases of this nature,” said Palabay, “the AMLC based its unjust designation and freeze orders on the perjured testimonies of a so-called rebel returnee who claimed to have founded the LCDe in 2002, when the LCDe has, in fact, been registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) since 1988.”

“This case also amply demonstrates the real dangers of red-tagging and how it swiftly leads to terror-tagging,” said Palabay.

“Jerusalem has long been the subject of red-tagging and harassment by state forces in the course of her activism and development work. She was falsely accused of involvement in a ‘communist’ purge in Leyte in the 1980s even if she was still a college student in Cebu at the time of the alleged incident. In 2018, she was among some 600 respondents in the government’s proscription case against the CPP-NPA, which was eventually dismissed by a Manila court. Now, she is accused of being a terrorist. Where will this end? In her unjust arrest and detention, forcible disappearance or extrajudicial killing?” she stated.

“Karapatan demands an end to terror-tagging. Government bodies like the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), ATC and AMLC whose reason for being is to surveil, profile, red- and terror-tag human rights defenders, development workers and political activists must be abolished, and the fascist and anti-people policies that engendered them, revoked,” concluded Palabay.