Lawyers’ groups defend 16 people charged with terrorism financing

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 17 2022 10:48 PM

MANILA — Lawyers’ groups on Wednesday came out in support of 16 people, including four nuns, accused of providing funding to rebel groups designated by the Philippine government as terrorists.

The National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) and its affiliate Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) both denounced the charges as "baseless” and “dangerous.”

The charges are based on claims of two alleged ex-rebels who accused the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) Northern Mindanao Region (NMR) of funneling 60 percent of its funds to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), which were designated by the Anti-Terrorism Council as terrorist groups in December 2020.

RMP is a church-based national NGO composed of priests, nuns and lay persons that provides assistance to farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples. It has also spoken against killings and impunity in the Philippines.

NUPL, in a statement, accused the Anti-Money Laundering Council of "recklessly" charging the 16 individuals before the Department of Justice (DOJ) "seemingly on the mere dubious say so of polluted and ill-motivated sources and apparently on a prejudged examination of the subject accounts."

“[I]ndependent checks and reviews by RMP’s funding agencies revealed that such allegations were baseless and false,” NUPL said in a statement.

UPLM, on Tuesday, said the accusations were based on “unvetted testimonies” meant to supposedly suppress and harass human rights defenders.

“The projects of the RMP-NMR went through the rigorous processes of selection, monitoring and auditing by its respective donors, such as the European Union, the United Nations, and many others,” it said.

“With particular respect to the European Union, the bloc has explicitly stated, through its then Ambassador to the Philippines Mr. Franz Jessen, that no funds from the Union have been used to support the armed rebellion,” it added.

The DOJ has refused to release a copy of the resolution indicting the 16 respondents nor of the informations or criminal charges filed before an Iligan City court. It only released a press briefer on Monday.

The press briefer states that some of the accused supposedly issued checks in favor CPP-NPA members through RMP/RMP-NMR’s bank account. 

There was no mention of any evidence the AMLC found to prove that some of the accused are indeed CPP-NPA members, and that the funds supposedly funneled through RMP-NMR were indeed used to purchase firearms and ammunitions for use by the rebel groups.

The AMLC has also declined ABS-CBN News’ request for an interview, but promised to respond to written questions.

The AMLC, backed by a Court of Appeals ruling, had earlier frozen the bank account of RMP/RMP-NMR.

“To indict these individuals merely on the basis of unvetted or still to be clarified statements, without strong documentary or object proof, is to act on rumors. No less than the Department of Justice is expected to heed the principles of justice, truth and fairness in the conduct of its duty to the public which it has sworn to serve,” UPLM said.

NUPL and UPLM are not RMP-NMR's lawyers, but both issued solidarity statements in support of the group since one of those charged is an officer of the two organizations.

Lawyer Czarina Golda Selim Musni, among the 16 accused, is UPLM's secretary-general and NUPL's national auditor.

Musni, UPLM said, has been a member of UPLM-Cagayan de Oro since her law school days and has provided legal assistance to Lumad communities in partnership with RMP-NMR. 

This assistance included asserting their constitutional rights to protect their ancestral lands and the attacks are supposedly intended to weaken the support for advancing people’s rights in Northern Mindanao.

“These engagements have strengthened the indigenous peoples’ movement in the assertion of their rights as a people. Ironically, these developments triggered the government and earned its ire. Any one who dares to run counter to the policies of this government faces the wrath of red-tagging, and worse, the marking as a terrorist and an enemy of the state,” UPLM said.

For NUPL, the filing of charges goes beyond weaponization of the law, calling it “weaponization against the very lawyers fighting such insidious policy and practice.”

“Even before this incident, the young and fearless Dingkay (Musni) has been a constant subject of threats and harassments offline and online. She has been vilified and demonized as ‘terrorist’ in anonymous publications and posters, clearly hoping to stop her from defending against state repression and oppression. These attacks must end now,” it said.

“We will stand by Dingkay in all fora as we have stood by not only our persecuted clients but our very own colleagues under attack as well whose only crime is to serve the interests and welfare of the people selflessly and valiantly,” it added.

ABS-CBN News has also reached out to RMP and RMP-NMR but has yet to receive any comments on the issue.

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