Rights group decries increasing use of law on terrorism financing vs dev’t and humanitarian workers

September 28, 2023

Karapatan denounces the filing of another case citing violations of Republic Act No. 10168 or the Anti-Terrorism Financing and Prevention Act against development workers of the Community Empowerment and Resource Network (CERNET) as yet again another clear and unequivocal example on how counter-terror legislation in the Philippines is being used to violate rights and to impede the work of human rights defenders.

In May 2023, Col. Joey Escanillas, Commander of the Joint Task Force Cebu, 31st Division of the Philippine Army, filed a complaint against CERNET’s council, board and staff members. Today, September 28, is the first hearing on the case at the Department of Justice office in Cebu City.

Prior to this case, numerous incidents of red-tagging, threats, and surveillance against CERNET’s staff had been reported. In January 2023, CERNET staff April Dyan Gumanao and her fiance were abducted by suspected State agents and went missing for days, before they were surfaced.

For years, CERNET has been conducting development work in the Visayas and working with grassroots and people’s organizations.

The latest case against CERNET follows the complaints/charges using Republic Act No. 10168 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 UCCP Fatima in Ubay, Bohol; Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women and many other NGOs in Mindanao; and journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

In most, if not all, of the cases, purported rebel surrenderees are presented as witnesses and their perjured testimonies as bases for the wild conjectures of the military and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in the charges and public statements against the development and humanitarian workers. This pattern puts into question the NTF-ELCAC’s Balik-Loob program, which largely targets civilians who are members of legal organizations in direct contravention of international humanitarian law.

These forms of judicial harassment are dangerous precedents baring the real motives and extent of the enactment and use of counter-terror legislation in the Philippines – these are done to suppress political dissent, create a chilling effect and perpetuate a climate of impunity, in violation of the Philippine Constitution’s Bill of Rights and international human rights norms.

Likewise, these cases also expose the highly questionable and mafia-like actions of the Philippine government and the international group known as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In recent deliberations on the 2024 national budget at the House of Representatives, the solon who sponsored the Department of Justice’s budget said that among the requirements needed by the Philippine government to be removed from the FATF’s grey list is to increase prosecutions on terrorism financing. This begs several questions: Are the recent forms of judicial harassment of development and humanitarian workers using RA No 10168 included in this apparent checklist of prosecutions? Are they aware that among the implications of these prosecutions is the denial of needed food, medical, and educational support for thousands if not millions of poor Filipinos in the rural areas? Is the FATF, a creation of governments in the sidelines of a G7 summit, operating based on international human rights norms or standards, or is it a highly questionable aggrupation of governments out to persecute human rights defenders across borders?

Karapatan stands with CERNET and its numerous partners among grassroots and people’s organizations. We are one with them in calling for the dismissal of the complaints against members of their council, board and staff. We demand the junking of counter-terror legislations RA No. 10168 and Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act as laws which violate the rights of individuals and communities.