‘Terrorism financing’ cases filed vs activists

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Even before the Supreme Court ruled that red-tagging threatens one’s life, liberty and security, the state security forces have been utilizing two existing laws – the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act – to suppress or harass human rights defenders and political activists/dissenters.

There has been a noticeable increase in the Marcos Jr. administration’s “weaponization” of the two related laws, according to Karapatan last week. It results in a “rapidly shrinking civic space and grave deterioration” of the human rights situation in the country, it said, and called for urgent action.

It was in early December last year, the human rights watchdog explained, that this started to happen. This was soon after the Marcos Jr. government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines jointly announced, on Nov. 28, their consensus to resume the formal peace negotiations which Rodrigo Duterte had arbitrarily terminated in November 2019.

On Dec. 6, however, the Anti-Terrorism Council issued a resolution reaffirming its designation of the CPP-NPA-NDFP as a “terrorist organization.” This effectively stymied the continuation of the peace talks, owing to a supposed government policy not to negotiate with “terrorist organizations.”

Since then, nothing has been heard again about the Nov. 28 joint statement. The freezing of the peace talks – its continuation was agreed on after two years of discreet bilateral talks in Oslo, Norway – signals the Marcos Jr. government’s indifferent stance on the matter.

Instead, criminal cases related to terrorism, overseen by the Department of Justice, continue to be filed against activists and organizations. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as individuals that have been helping the poor and marginalized communities for decades, have been slapped with charges of “terrorism financing.” Their assets and bank accounts are frozen by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

To this day, according to Karapatan, “more than a hundred human rights defenders, political activists and other dissenters have been unjustly and arbitrarily accused, indicted or charged under the two anti-terrorism laws.”

“Leading the charge in weaponizing anti-terror legislations against human rights defenders and political activists is the Department of Justice, the same government agency [whose head] co-chairs Malacañang’s newly-created Human Rights Coordinating Council, a ‘super body’ that will supposedly ensure adherence to human rights norms,” noted Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay.

“The hypocrisy is painfully obvious,” she pointed out. “It is the equivalent of ordering an attack dog to protect its victim. Marcos Jr. reeks of duplicity in assigning conflicting roles to the DOJ. It is a glaring indicator of his gross contempt for human rights and international humanitarian law, making the perpetration of injustice a certainty!”

Here are some of the ATA-related cases under Marcos Jr.’s watch:

• Dec. 5, 2023 – NDFP consultant and former political prisoner Elizabeth Principe was designated as a “terrorist individual” through ATC Resolution No. 53. Earlier, on Oct. 25, 2023, another NDFP consultant, Concepcion Araneta, was similarly designated through ATC Resolution No. 52.

• Jan. 9, 2024 – The Cabanatuan City prosecutor filed charges of ATA violations against Nathanael Santiago, secretary-general of both Makabayan Coalition and Bayan Muna; Anakpawis party campaign director Servillano Luna Jr.; ASCENT convenor and coordinator Rosario Brenda Gonzales and Bulacan Ecumenical Forum volunteer lay worker Anasana San Gabriel.

The military claimed the four activists had participated in a supposed armed encounter between the New People’s Army and the Philippine Army’s 84th Infantry Battalion in Brgy. San Fernando, Laur, Nueva Ecija on Oct. 8, 2023. On May 3, the four filed their counter-affidavits vehemently denying the allegations against them, detailing their respective whereabouts during the alleged armed encounter.

• Feb. 24, 2024 – The DOJ indicted two youth activists, Fritz Jay Labiano and Adrian Paul Tagle, allegedly for “terrorism financing” or violating Section 8(II) of RA 10168. How? When they visited two women, Miguela Peniero and Rowena Dasig, who were detained at the Atimonan Municipal Police Station, they handed the latter P500, food items and drinking water.

Labiano is the Kabataan Party coordinator in Quezon province, while Tagle is the coordinator-spokesman of Tanggol Quezon and a member of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog. Peniero is an environmental activist and Dasig, an indigenous people’s rights advocate. They were arrested on July 12, 2023 for unspecified offenses.

The Labiano-Tagle case, Karapatan avers, “sets a very dangerous precedent as it penalizes human rights defenders and humanitarian aid workers who provide material assistance to activists in police or military custody, who may have either been designated as ‘terrorists’ or accused of violations under the ATA or RA 10168.”

ª March 19, 2024 – A Negros Occidental police sergeant filed “terrorism financing” charges against Clarissa Ramos, Felipe Levy Gelle Jr., Darryl Albanez and Federico Salvilla, who all are identified with a Negros-based NGO promoting sustainable agriculture programs. The DOJ has directed them to submit their counter-affidavits on May 10.

• May 2, 2024 – The AMLC ordered the Tacloban branch of PSBank and Metropolitan Bank to freeze the bank accounts of the Leyte Center for Development (LCDe), also those of its executive director and staff. The AMLC claimed that LCDe executive director Jazmin Jerusalem and her staff had been providing funds to the CPP-NPA and that Jerusalem had been designated as a “terrorist.” However, no public information was available attesting to such designation.

• May 3, 2024 – Cebu City RTC Branch 74 issued arrest warrants against 28 individuals who have been connected with the Community Empowerment and Resource Network (Cernet), setting bail for each at P200,000. They have been charged with “terrorism financing” solely on the testimony of one purported rebel-returnee.

But like the scattered rainshowers that relieve the oppressive heat, there’s also good news. Criminal complaints for alleged violations of the ATA filed against five human rights advocates in Southern Tagalog have all been dismissed.

Acquitted were: United Methodist Church pastor Glofie Baluntong, Tanggol Batangan paralegal Haily Pecayo, Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights secretary-general Jasmin Rubia, Anakbayan-ST coordinator Kenneth Rementilla and UCCP pastor Edwin Egar, a Karapatan-ST officer.

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