Karapatan: Marcos Jr.’s EO 33, an order to suppress dissent, to curtail rights

Karapatan views with utmost concern the issuance by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of Executive Order 33 directing government agencies to adopt the National Anti-Money Laundering, Counter-Terrorism Financing, and Counter Proliferation Financing Strategy (NACS) 2023-2027, a directive with the purported objective to ensure that the Philippines exits from a “grey list” of countries compiled by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The FATF, an informal intergovernmental body formed in the 1989 G7 Summit, has mainstreamed so-called soft laws on money laundering and terrorist financing, despite a glaring lack of use of the framework of international human rights laws and instruments. Of particular concern is the issuance by the FATF of Special Recommendation VIII (SR VIII) which specifically targets non-profit organizations or NPOs. Governments have implemented such recommendations and as a result, it has been increasingly difficult for non-governmental organizations, especially human rights groups, worldwide to access funds for relief and development efforts due to the overbroad FATF criteria. Many NGOs have been forced to shut down and its human rights defenders are adversely affected by FATF-prescribed measures.

In the Philippines, the adoption of the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act are the direct results of the government’s desire to comply with the FATF’s criteria. The use of the laws targeting the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), national federation of peasant women Amihan and other NGOs for alleged violation of the terrorism financing act, as well as the designation as terrorists and the filing of anti-terrorism charges against several political activists, have been part of the government’s frenzied moves to be deemed compliant with the FATF.

With EO 33, which calls for more stringent implementation of FATF recommendations, we can anticipate its dire results: the designation as terrorists of even more political activists and the curtailment of even more pro-people and development-oriented programs on false and malicious accusations of terrorist linkages.

Amihan has reportedly succeeded in having the freeze order on its bank accounts lifted by the courts, but is still unable to access its funds because its accounts have been declared dormant through no fault of its own. The RMP is facing its legal battles on two fronts: a criminal case before an Iligan City court and a civil forfeiture case involving 15 bank accounts before a Manila court. Meanwhile, its health, educational and other development projects based in some of the country’s poorest communities have ground to a halt.

This scenario will be amplified multiple times with the enforcement of EO 33. Already, the government has reportedly completed a two-year audit/examination of 21 “non-profit organizations” (from 2020 to 2022), but declined to name these organizations. The question that progressive organizations are asking is, on whose heads will the axe fall next, as the government attempts to scramble its way out of the “grey list”?

And yet, the Philippines remains a money-laundering paradise for big-time crime syndicates through casinos, POGOs, poorly regulated money service businesses and even the much-anticipated (by money-launderers) and largely audit-exempt Maharlika Investment Fund.

EO 33 must be exposed and opposed for what it is: an order to further suppress dissent and curtail the pro-people and development-oriented activities of progressive organizations.