Court orders arrest of 27 Cebu NGO workers

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Twenty-seven members of a non-government organization in Cebu have been ordered arrested for allegedly financing communist rebels.

Cebu City Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Marlon Jay Moneva ordered on May 14 the arrest of the members of the Community Empowerment Resource Network Inc. (CERNET) for violation of the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act.

CERNET has been suspected of channeling funds to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army since 2001. 

Lt. Col. Israel Galorio, Visayas Command public information office chief, said the charges were filed “after finding probable cause grounded on substantial evidence provided by VISCOM, through the Joint Task Group Cebu under the Army’s 302nd Infantry Brigade on Sept. 28, 2023.” 

“VISCOM has always been a staunch advocate for stringent measures to combat terrorism and its financing,” VISCOM commander Lt. Gen. Fernando Reyeg said. ”The  legal action against CERNET marks a critical step in ensuring that entities engaging in illicit financial activities face the full weight of the law.”

Human rights group Karapatan-Central Visayas described the charges filed against CERNET as “malicious persecution of development workers and human rights advocates.”

“The charges are nothing but ludicrous, utterly baseless and extremely dangerous,” the group said.

CERNET is a ”genuine” non-government organization that has been assisting different people’s organizations since 2001, it said.

“Banking merely on hearsay, they rabidly appropriated concocted stories to charge wholesale all past and present officers and staff of CERNET without raising any allegation of wrongdoing for most of them,” Karapatan said.

The group called for the immediate dismissal of the case and repeal of the Anti-Terrorism Act, noting that charges based on false accusations have increased since its passage.

The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) echoed calls for the dismissal of the case, of which labor leader Jaime Paglinawan was among the respondents.

Paglinawan was charged for supposedly being a partner project implementer of CERNET.

“The case is most absurd as the labor leader and each of the development workers has no money and had to borrow in order to post the P200,000 bail for their temporary liberty,” the CTUHR said. — Janvic Mateo

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