Stop the political persecution of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines!

Karapatan renewed its call on the Marcos Jr. government to stop the political persecution of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), as the RMP braced for another hearing today, November 30, 2023, on the criminal and civil forfeiture cases it is facing for alleged violation of Republic Act No. 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.

Aside from the civil forfeiture case pending before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 37, sixteen individuals, including four nuns who are members of RMP are facing non-bailable charges before an Iligan City court for alleged violation of Section 8 of RA 10168 punishable with 40 years imprisonment, and a fine ranging from P500,000 to P1,000,000.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that the trumped up charges against RMP are based solely on false testimonies and fabricated stories by two alleged rebel returnees – Gleceria Balangiao and Jackielyn Ann Elaco – who falsely accused the members of the RMP of being members of the of the CPP-NPA and of setting aside sixty per cent (60%) of their funds from the European Union to buy arms, medical supplies, food, clothing and support for families of the NPA, as well as other needs for tactical offensives from 2017 to 2019. The said funds were intended for the RMP-NMR’s development projects and the concerned EU funding agencies have found no irregularity or anomaly whatsoever in the implementation of the projects.

Balangiao and Elaco further claimed to have surrendered to the military on January 11, 2019. They have since been under military custody and are presumably benefitting monetarily from the government’s Balik-Loob and Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration programs. Notably, Balangiao and Elaco are the same witnesses in the two civil forfeiture cases against the RMP, the RMP- NMR, and a number of peasant organizations likewise been victimized by RA 10168.

Palabay said that “these facts point to the lack of credibility and integrity of the supposed witnesses, especially with the prosecution’s lack of corroborating evidence.” She further said that “survivors of abductions and enforced disappearances have stated that they are coerced to follow the military or government’s scripts while in their custody.”

Karapatan said that the freezing of RMP’s assets and properties have led to unjust restrictions on their activities and the suspension or cancellation of their education, health, livelihood and other development projects in impoverished and far-flung communities. The civil forfeiture case against the RMP is only the first in a series of cases filed against several faith-based institutions and development NGOs like the Community Empowerment and Resource Network (Cernet) in Central Visayas; the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Ministry in Davao City and Brokenshire Integrated Health Ministries, Inc. (BIHMI) also based in Davao City; UCCP Fatima based in Ubay, Bohol; Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women; and many other NGOs in Mindanao.

Karapatan called on the public, especially communities of peasants and indigenous peoples, to press for the dismissal of these trumped up charges against the RMP and to work towards the repeal of laws including the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 that violate the people’s rights.