MANILA — A church-based national NGO has hit back against the terrorism financing charges filed against some of its members, claiming that one of the accusers was only forced to testify in exchange for the freedom of her arrested mother.
The Department of Justice's charges "are based on the testimonies of 2 so-called surrenderees," and one of them "has been presented as a former NPA (New People's Army) member after authorities arrested her mother," the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) said on Thursday, 3 days after the DOJ announced the filing of charges.
"In exchange for her mother’s release, she executed a spurious statement accusing RMP members of channeling funds to the CPP-NPA," the group said in a press statement, citing "information obtained by RMP."
Some of RMP’s members, including 4 nuns, were charged with violating section 8(ii) of Republic Act 10168 or the The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.
The provision punishes anyone who “makes available any property or funds, or financial services” to persons or groups identified or designated as terrorists with 12 years to 40 years in jail and a fine of between P500,000 to P1 million.
An alleged former finance officer of RMP and its Northern Mindanao Region chapter supposedly claimed 60 percent of RMP’s funds for its project goes to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA, which were designated by the Anti-Terrorism Council as terrorist groups in December 2020.
But for RMP, the accusations are part of a government strategy of using people who allegedly surrendered to testify against groups like RMP.
“As part of government’s counter-insurgency program, ‘surrenderees’ have been used to link legal democratic organizations to the CPP-NPA while lining the pockets of corrupt officials in the process,” it alleged.
No additional details were given as to when, where or how this happened or who were involved in the supposed arrest.
RMP has yet to respond to requests for interviews from ABS-CBN News.
In the same statement, RMP refuted allegations the group provided funds to rebel groups.
“As consistently stated by Sr. Elenita Belardo, 83, former RMP national coordinator and herself at the receiving end of an ongoing perjury case filed by former National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogens Esperon Jr., all RMP projects are well-documented, reported and accounted for. It has complied with requirements in securing funds for their projects, including audits,” the group said.
RMP has provided service to the rural poor for 53 years. It claimed the "demonization" of RMP's work negatively affected its various ministries which include sustainable agriculture, rural schools, disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation, health services, defense of human rights, and organic farming.
The group also expressed concern over the safety of those charged.
Two have already been jailed supposedly on trumped-up charges.
The group said that even before the passage of the Anti-Terrorism law in 2020, RMP has been red-tagged and vilified, citing several instances.
A former anti-insurgency task force NTF-ELCAC spokesperson campaigned against RMP before European funders.
In 2019, the Anti-Money Laundering Council froze 3 of RMP's bank accounts, eventually expanding the freeze order to other accounts.
Its website was also among those ordered blocked in June this year by Esperon and the National Telecommunications Commission, just before former President Rodrigo Duterte stepped down.
“Why is the government – especially from Duterte to Marcos II — hellbent in using all resources at its disposal to shut down the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines for good?,” it asked.
“The Marcos II government is using the same playbook by predecessor Duterte by demonizing legal democratic organizations such as RMP which provide much-needed services to the people and putting its members in direct harm’s way. Rabid and lethal red- tagging, weaponization of the law, and impunity for human rights violations continue to be state policies that must be vigorously opposed,” it added.
Lawyers groups have previously expressed solidarity with the group, refuting allegations of funding terrorism.
The justice department has yet to reply to ABS-CBN News' request for comment.