DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted 16 individuals including four nuns from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and a lawyer for allegedly providing funds to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.
In a hearing before the Iligan City Regional Trial Court, the 16 individuals were charged with the violation of Section 8 of RA 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012. This is a non-bailable offense, has a punishment of reclusion perpetua or 40 years imprisonment, and a fine ranging from P500,000 to P1 million.
Mico Clavano, of the Office of the Justice Secretary, withheld the copy of the resolution to the media, citing privacy.
The charge was based on the investigation made by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on RMP’s bank accounts and the testimonies of two individuals who claimed to be former communist rebels. On February 11, 2020, the AMLC ordered a freeze on three of RMP’s bank accounts on the same basis.
RMP is a national, non-profit organization of priests, nuns, and lay workers that provides service to poor communities of farmers, indigenous people, fisher folks, and agricultural workers that has existed for 53 years. It has not been designated as a terrorist group and has consistently denied accusations by state security forces of being a communist front organization.
Also charged is Aldeem Yañez, a lay worker of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, who was arrested during Palm Sunday this year in Cagayan de Oro.
The DOJ’s move was slammed by several groups and individuals including the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).
NUPL’s national auditor, lawyer Czarina “Dingkay” Golda Musni, was one of those indicted. Musni also serves as the Secretary General of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao.
NUPL defended RMP saying independent checks and reviews by funding agencies revealed the allegations “were baseless and false.”
The lawyers said that despite these clearances, Musni and the RMP sisters and staff “have been recklessly charged” before the DOJ by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
“This is not only weaponization of the law but weaponization against the very lawyers fighting such insidious policy and practice,” the NUPL said in a statement.
NUPL said Musni has been frequently subjected to threats and harassment both offline and online. She has also been tagged as a “terrorist” in anonymous publications and posters. But NUPL said she and the RMP sisters have continuously supported the plight of the marginalized and oppressed in Northern Mindanao, particularly the Lumads, through various programs and projects.
Meanwhile, the Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA) also condemned the DOJ’s charge saying it puts the lives of the nuns and development workers in danger and it exposes them to attacks and rights violations by the military and police who have previously red-tagged RMP on mere suspicion.
In a statement, MCPA said RMP was one of the NGOs that immediately responded to the bakwits from Marawi City in 2017 where they initiated relief and medical missions, and psychosocial services for the victims of air strikes by the government. RMP was also quick to respond to cries for help and support from Moro communities victimized by disasters and military operations.
“These are Christians who helped your Moro brothers and sisters, the indigenous peoples, and the poor people. These are development workers who listen and deliver services to the marginalized,” the MCPA said. (davaotoday.com)