Military warns NGOs against aiding Reds
CEBU CITY — A network of church-based and human rights organizations has expressed alarm over the potential weaponization of laws against nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), while the military warned these groups against being used by communist rebels to fund their operations.
A statement last week by Action Network Human Rights Philippines (ANHRP) stemmed from charges filed in May by the Visayas Command (Viscom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against 27 members of the Community Empowerment Resource Network (Cernet), for allegedly aiding the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
On Sept. 28, the Department of Justice began its preliminary hearing on the charges filed on May 23 at the Regional State Prosecutor’s Office in Cebu City. The 27 Cernet members are accused of violating Republic Act No. 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.
The Inquirer opted not to identify the respondents since they had yet to issue individual statements regarding the matter.
ANHRP said the Philippine government is apparently under pressure to show that there had been an increase in the prosecution of money laundering and terrorism financing cases after being repeatedly gray-listed by the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering.
“In a recent study, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism has highlighted the global trend of governments abusing international counterterrorism financing standards against civil society, citing the Philippines as an example,” ANHRP said.
But Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, Viscom commander, said authorities were determined to end the communist armed conflict in the country and will not hesitate to “enforce the full extent of the law to bring justice for people who have been the victims of these nefarious acts.”
“They cannot hide under the guise of cause-oriented and advocacy support groups forever. The law will not turn a blind eye to their deception, corruption, and terrorist acts,” he said in a statement on Friday.
“Justice will be served for all the menace they’ve caused to the Filipino people. They better have a good lawyer, or better yet, the lawyers of their allied organizations [should] be prepared to answer the call for justice of the people,” he added.
Lawyer Ian Vincent Cavada Manticajon, who serves as counsel for three of the 27 respondents, said his clients and the other members of Cernet were unjustly implicated solely because of their past association with the group either as staff members or trustee or council members.
“We therefore urgently call on the Philippine government to retract all unfounded accusations against Cernet. Furthermore, we urge the Philippine government to conduct thorough investigations and hold those responsible for Red-tagging accountable,” he said.
In its statement posted on its Facebook page, Cernet described the charges as a form of persecution to vilify the cause and mission of the organization.
“We strongly debunk the allegations mentioned in the complaint, especially when it is grounded on…lies and baseless accusations,” it said.
Cernet accused the government of persecuting civil society organizations by weaponizing laws.
“These only endanger the lives of development organizations and workers as they strive in contributing toward the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,” said the group, which is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a nonprofit organization.
‘Fund generation scheme’
But according to Viscom, Cernet has been utilized since 2001 by the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), to support their logistical and financial requirements.
“In order for [communist terrorists] to sustain their atrocities and operations, they do not just rely on the money collected from the extortion activities, but they have mastered their fund generation scheme legally through the creation of NGOs,” Viscom said, adding that it had documents and testimonies of former Cernet members against the organization, among other evidence.
Viscom said it cannot disclose its evidence, for now, so as not to compromise the case pending before the prosecutor’s office.
Brig. Gen. Joey Escanillas, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade, said the charges stemmed from a case buildup wherein the NGO’s fundraising scheme was uncovered.
He said the rebels’ strategy has evolved, using “developmental workers” from NGOs as their cover.
According to him, NGOs submit project proposals to various international foundations for approval and funding ranging from P50,000 to millions of pesos.
“Through case buildup, it was disclosed that Cernet’s fund officers have been distributing funds wherein a portion is allocated to the people’s organization for their projects, while substantial amount had been given to the finance officer of the CTG (communist terrorist group) to acquire firearms and other war materials, which were then used by the CTG in assaults on innocent civilians and destruction of heavy machinery in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental in 2013,” Escanillas said.
Escanillas emphasized that the case was not against development workers.
“We are fighting terrorism particularly instigated by the CTG in this instance. We aim to put an end to their terror, falsehoods and deceptions which harm numerous innocent civilians, military personnel, police officers, politicians, business owners, and even companies subjected to extortion and arson,” he said.
“We urge the public to be aware of these misleading CTG tactics and to work together to fight CTG-led terrorism. This case serves as a stern warning to those who aid, collaborate with, or conspire with this terror group. The law will not provide excuses or exemptions from prosecution for such individuals,” he added.
Arevalo said of the charges: “This is not Red-tagging. This is truth-tagging. We wanted the people to know the truth about the CPP-NPA and its accomplices and allied organizations. They can sometimes pose as angels but behind the angelic smiles and alluring promises are the devils hiding their horns and tails.” INQ