Gov't lawyer quizzed on how anti-terrorism law could affect charities, community pantries

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Gov't lawyer quizzed on how anti-terrorism law could affect charities, community pantries
Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang interpellated Assistant Solicitor General Raymund Rigodon on issues raised against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on Tuesday, April 27.
Screenshot from the Supreme Court Public Information Office livestream

MANILA, Philippines — In next Supreme Court debates on the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon may have to explain the basis of government officials’ accusations that community pantry organizers have links to communist rebels.

In the fifth session of oral arguments on Tuesday, Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang brought up the “hot issue of community pantries.”

The magistrate asked Assistant Solicitor General Raymund Rigodon on what the basis government officials is for associating community pantry organizers, whom Carandang said are “people with good heart,” to the New People’s Army.

Rigodon admitted that he doesn't know. “Perhaps we can consult [National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.,” the government lawyer said.

“We can question him later. We will toss to him the questions later on. I have questions for General Esperon,” Carandang added.

Although unidentified in the interpellation, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict spokespersons Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade and Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy made the claims—with Parlade even comparing pioneering organizer Patricia Non to biblical figure Satan.

The claims were echoed by at least one official police social media account.

READ: Plot twist: From community pantries to police-run 'Barangayanihan'

Humanitarian work and anti-terrorism law

Humanitarian organizations are among the many challengers of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 before the high court. They fear that their advocacies and the help they bring to far-flung barangays and communities will be tagged as material support to terrorists under Section 12 of the law.

Assistant Solgen Rigodon told the court that, under the law, "one providing material support must be aware that the entity or individual he is giving support is engaged in terrorism or promotes terrorism."

Carandang pressed: So the person giving support must be aware that the organization receiving donations is engaged in terrorism?

“And by giving support, he is aiding these terrorists individuals or groups,” Rigodon added.

The government lawyer also pointed out that Section 13 of the law provides humanitarian activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Philippine Red Cross and other state-recognized humanitarian partners are exempted Section 12 of the ATA.

"Therefore, if it’s not recognized by the state, there is possibility that this humanitarian assistance may be considered material support," Rigodon added.

Carandang prodded: How about the church that provides charitable help and contribution to people? “Even Congress is wary of the activities of the church, is that what you mean?” she added.

“Perhaps Congress just wants to ensure that the humanitarian assistance that will be given to those who really need it and will not be utilized to aid violent activities,” Rigodon replied.

But what happens if the church is unaware that organizations they donate to are so-called terrorist organizations? Carandang pressed: What happens if they get arrested first?

Rigodon said the church can use the defense that they did not have knowledge that the organizations are engaged in terrorist activities.

“So the government will not invest good faith on the charitable institutions? Church organizations, providing support to poor people?” Carandang asked.

“As long as such support is not given to identified terrorist organizations,” Rigodon said.

The oral arguments will resume on May 4 afternoon.

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