DOJ indicts members of church-based org for allegedly financing terrorism

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
DOJ indicts members of church-based org for allegedly financing terrorism
This undated photo posted on February 12, 2020 on the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines - NMR Facebook page shows a nun at a fact-finding mission in Agusan del Norte.
Rural Missionaries of the Philippines - NMR Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice has indicted 16 persons, including members of national church-based organization Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, on alleged terrorist financing—a non-bailable case.

In a briefer sent to reporters on Monday, the DOJ said there was probable cause to indict 16 persons, including nuns and supposedl communist rebels, "for making funds available to the [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army]."

They are facing chages in violation of Section 8 of Republic Act 10168 or the The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 that has punishment of reclusion perpetua or 40 years imprisonment, and a fine from P500,000 to P1,000,000.

No bail is recommended for this case filed before the regional trial court of Iligan City.

According to Frontline Defenders, the RMP is comprised of priests and lay persons; empowers farmers, fisher-folk and indigenous peoples; and educates them on their rights.

The complaint stemmed from a financial investigation of the Anti-Money Laundering Council that supposedly found that the indicted persons provided financial support to the CPP-NPA, both of which the government has designated as terrorist organizations.

The money-laundering watchdog investigated the bank accounts of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP)/RMP-Northern Mindanao Region with Bank of Philippine Islands based on sworn statements of two government witnesses who were said to be former communist rebels, the DOJ said.

The DOJ briefer did not name the two former members of the CPP-NPA. It only stated that one witness is a former member of the communist rebels and a finance officer of various CPP-NPA NGO fronts.

The DOJ said the Court of Appeals issued a resolution on Feb. 11, 2020 for the freezing of the accounts of RMP, and this was extended through another resolution dated Feb. 21, 2020.

The AMLC also supposedly submitted documents but it remains unclear what these were.

Despite repeated requests from the press, the DOJ said the Office of the Prosecutor General insisted that the resolution is a private matter for parties of the case only.

No defense

Lawyer Mico Clavano of the Office of the Justice Secretary said the respondents "failed to submit their respective counter-affidavits during the preliminary investigation."

"Thus, no defense on the respondents were received by the prosecuting panel," he added.

The DOJ has yet to respond to questions on whether respondents were furnished with subpoenas or whether they were able to participate in the preliminary probe.

The RMP, a religious organization, is one of the petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

They told the court then that there is danger that their advocacies to uplift marginalized sectors such as indigenous peoples will be tagged as “constitute financing terrorism.”

They stressed: "Petitioners come before the Honorable Court not only with the possibility, but the actuality of incurring grave and irreparable damages."

"In the present factual milieu, many of those who dare voice out against the government or even just on social issues are vilified in public. Right now, the ATA can be a masterful weapon that can be wielded against them," they added.

The Supreme Court, in resolving 37 petitions questioning its constitutionality, kept the law mostly intact.

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