KARAPATAN denounces trumped up terror-financing charges vs CERNET officers, staff

KARAPATAN decries the filing of trumped-up terrorist financing charges against the Community Empowerment and Resource Network (CERNET) and 28 individuals currently or previously in its council, board or staff.

Founded in 2001, CERNET is a Cebu-based development NGO that has consistently worked alongside grassroots organizations to alleviate poverty in marginalized communities in the Visayas. It has received recognition for its work but has also been the target of unfounded accusations of having links to the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

In an order dated May 13, 2024, Cebu City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 Presiding Judge Marlon Jay Moneva issued warrants of arrest against Maria Ira Pamat and 27 other individuals with current or previous connections to CERNET and set bail at PhP 200,000.00 each.

KARAPATAN notes the hypocrisy evident in the CERNET case being filed just days after Malacañang’s announcement of the creation of a human rights “superbody” co-chaired by the secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ)–the same body that works hand in glove with the AFP and the NTF-ELCAC’s legal cluster in churning out spurious cases alleging violation of anti-terrorism and terrorist financing laws by human rights defenders, development workers, mass leaders and activists.

The case against CERNET follows terrorism financing charges against the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and its Northern Mindanao office; the United Church of Christ of the Philippines HARAN ministry in Davao City and Brokenshire Integrated Health Ministries, Inc. (BIHMI) also based in Davao City and local church UCCP Fatima in Ubay, Bohol; Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women and many other NGOs in Mindanao; and journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and humanitarian worker Marielle Domequil.

Since CERNET has been charged, the Eastern Visayas-based Leyte Center for Development (LCDe) and the Negros-based Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group Inc. (PDG) have also been targeted, with the bank accounts of LCDe and its staff frozen and former and current officers and partners of PDG slapped with terrorist financing charges.

In most, if not all, of these cases, purported rebel surrenderees are presented as witnesses, with their perjured testimonies used as bases for false and unjust accusations by the military and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) against human rights defenders, development workers and political activists. This pattern puts to serious question the NTF-ELCAC’s forced surrender scheme known as the Balik-Loob program, which largely targets civilians who are members of legal organizations in direct contravention of international humanitarian law. It is these surrenderees, who, having been threatened, harassed and intimidated, provide perjured testimonies against targeted organizations, leaders and activists.

The escalating weaponization of counter-terror legislation bodes ill for an already shrinking civic space. It is obviously being done by the AFP-DOJ-NTF-ELCAC troika to further stifle political dissent and perpetuate the climate of impunity in violation of the Philippine Constitution’s Bill of Rights, international human rights norms as well as international humanitarian law.

But the biggest victims of these attacks against grassroots-oriented development organizations are the impoverished and marginalized communities they serve and that are now deprived of their projects and services.

KARAPATAN stands with CERNET and its numerous grassroots partners in calling for the dismissal of the false and unjust charges against its council, board and staff. We demand the junking of Republic Act No. 10168 and its evil twin, Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act for being gravely injurious to human rights and international humanitarian law. We further demand the recall of Executive Order No. 70, which created the NTF-ELCAC that institutionalized red-tagging. All activities emanating from this order, including the smear campaigns and judicial harassment of human rights activists must stop.