Red-tagged NGO cries foul after bank accounts frozen

Red-tagged NGO cries foul after bank accounts frozen

Inquirer files

TACLOBAN CITY, LEYTE, Philippines — A nongovernmental organization (NGO) working for depressed communities in Eastern Visayas has expressed outrage over the decision of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to freeze its bank account and that of its staff members and suppliers.

Jazmin Jerusalem, executive director of the Leyte Center for Development (LCDe) based in Palo town, Leyte, said the NGO would contest the sanctions imposed by the AMLC, which stemmed from the military’s accusation linking the group to the communist insurgency.

“We were shocked by AMLC freezing our organizational bank accounts, including my personal account as well as (that of) my son and my daughter-in-law who are not even members of the LCDe,” she said at a press conference on May 16.

READ: Cordillera activists hit AMLC for freezing assets

Marked under Du30

“Imagine, even the bank account of a repair shop in Ormoc City where we have our vehicle repaired and that of one of my staff whose money was just less than P5,000 were also frozen by the AMLC,” Jerusalem said.

The military branded the LCDe as a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), during the Duterte administration.

READ: AMLC freezes bank accounts of red-tagged farmers’ group

According to Jerusalem, they learned about the freezing only on May 2 when they went to a bank in Tacloban to withdraw some money to buy essentials.

“According to the bank manager, they received a copy of the order of AMLC freezing our accounts just three hours after we arrived at the bank,” she said. “Of course, we were all shocked and stunned. We are with our government in the fight against poverty, especially in remote communities.”

The order, Jerusalem said, cited “financing terrorism” as the reason for AMLC’s move.

LCDe’s organizational bank account, she said, contained donations amounting to more than P2 million and coming from foreign donors in Japan, South Korea, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“We will fight this out because it has a chilling effect on other nongovernmental organizations in the country,” she said.

Donors worried

Jerusalem said her group’s foreign donors who have Philippine offices were now afraid they might also be implicated by the AMLC and ordered to leave the country.

For the last 36 years, she said, LCDe has been helping poor communities in Leyte and Samar especially in disaster response and management. It was also particularly active during the pandemic.

“(We have) extended food assistance to our poor and vulnerable communities, especially during (Supertyphoon) ‘Yolanda,’ and now it is us who are now asking for food. We have no money to even buy food and basic essentials. How ironic,” Jerusalem said.

Denying any links to the CPP-NPA, she called on “our authorities to unfreeze LCDe’s bank accounts, including our personal accounts, and let us continue serving the people of Samar and Leyte and even other provinces outside the region unhampered, as what we have been doing for the past 36 years.”