Karapatan: Stand with RMP! End the criminalization and terror-tagging of humanitarian work!

Human rights watchdog Karapatan expressed its support for the Rural Missionaries (RMP) of the Philippines as they face the trumped-up terrorism financing charges against them in the courts today. Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor said that “these bogus charges and smear campaign against the RMP is a clear pretext for the Duterte government’s looming crackdown on humanitarian organizations in the country under the guise of counterterrorism.”

“We at Karapatan stand with the RMP in this hour of tribulation. For the past five decades, the RMP has worked tirelessly in providing humanitarian aid and basic social services for the marginalized in society — especially in far-flung rural communities. They have stood with indigenous peoples in asserting their rights to education and self-determination, with farmers in their struggle to till their own lands. How is helping the marginalized financing terrorism? Why is the government criminalizing humanitarian work?” Clamor asked.

On December 26, 2019, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency ordered the freezing of three bank accounts of the RMP through the Anti-Money Laundering Council under the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act under accusations that the RMP finances the New People’s Army. Instead of freezing just three accounts, however, the bank froze five. To further the persecution, 12 bank accounts, including those of the RMP – Northern Mindanao Region (NMR), were frozen after the Court of Appeals granted in February last year the AMLC’s petition to extend the freezing of the RMP’s assets.

The RMP had denied the accusations and began filing pleadings in court to lift the freeze order around July last year but, in September, its legal counsels were notified that the AMLC had filed an additional petition for civil forfeiture. On October 7, 2020, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 37 Judge Virgilio Macaraig froze all 10 of the RMP’s bank accounts and five accounts of the RMP-NMR — leaving them with no funds to continue their operations.

Clamor asserted that “falsely accusing the RMP of financing terrorism is simply and utterly ridiculous! Because the RMP has been steadfast in their humanitarian work in communities, in upholding social justice, in asserting the call to defend people’s rights, and in struggling for just peace, the Duterte government is deliberately targeting and persecuting them. The RMP, church workers, and other humanitarian organizations have been providing for basic social services in communities neglected by the government, and now the government wants to cripple them and their operations!”

The Karapatan official continued that, with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs’s (DFA) Note Verbale No. 2021-0592, dated February 5, 2021, regulating the funding of local non-government organizations and civil society groups against terrorist financing, the “Duterte government is laying the groundwork for further restriction of civic spaces by targeting legitimate organizations critical of government policies and denying their right to resources — just like what it is doing now to the RMP.”

“This deplorable scheme to vilify the RMP and curtail its access to resources and funding deprives the marginalized of critical support and services from their humanitarian work. That the government plans to replicate this scheme of restricting the resources and funding of organizations it has falsely tagged as supporters or fronts of ‘terrorists’ is a threat to civil society and other legitimate organizations aiding vulnerable sectors in society. We affirm our support for the brave church workers of the RMP against the lies being hurled against them. Stop the attacks against the RMP and end the criminalization of humanitarian work!” he ended.