Petitioners tell SC: Freezing of missionary group’s assets a prelude to terrorism cases

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Petitioners tell SC: Freezing of missionary group’s assets a prelude to terrorism cases

MANILA, Philippines — A local court’s freeze order on several bank accounts of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines for allegedly financing terrorism case is a prelude to the cases to be filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, petitioners told the Supreme Court.

The petitioners, in a separate manifestation, also reiterated their prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction to stop the government from implementing the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is facing dozens of challenges at the SC.

The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 37 on October 7 issued an Asset Preservation Order against several bank accounts of the RMP over a case of violation of the Terrorism and Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012, which the group of 20 religious leaders said is “baseless and unfounded.”

RMP, a religious organization, is accused of providing financial and material support to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army, but the group denied that their funds have been used to finance communist rebels.

“Under these circumstances, the designation as a terrorist organization of the petitioners is not just a possibility, it is a foregone conclusion unless the Honorable Court declares the ATA as unconstitutional,” the petitioners, represented by the Public Interest Law Center, said in a fresh pleading.

The petitioners, composed of religious organizations, filed a compliance and manifestation following the SC’s order to inform it of recent developments in the case.

The petitioners said that the filing of the case against RMP relied on testimonies of two persons who are allegedly former members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army who have since surrendered to the government.

“Thus, it is most deplorable that an APO was issued on October 7, 2020 in this test-case preluding the cases to be filed under the Anti-Terrorism Law,” the petitioners said.

“Bolstering the unfounded accusations of terrorism financing, the government through the [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict] boasted of the freeze order and the pending civil forfeiture case filed against the RMP” in a Senate hearing, they also said.

In a statement in February on the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s order of a 20-day freeze on three accounts held by RMP, the group said it “vehemently [denies] involvement in any form of financing terrorism.”

“Donations and funding received by the RMP are used to implement projects and programs to help the marginalized and oppressed. In contrast to the government’s false narrative, RMP has delivered much-needed services to rural communities across the country for 50 years. We have our mission and community partners to confirm this. In freezing our bank accounts, the AMLC is only depriving the rural poor of the help and services they deserve, and that the government refuses to provide,” it also said.

Red-tagging

In the said hearing held on November 3, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC, claimed the RMP is being used by the CPP-NPA to get funding from international funders.

The petitioners also told the SC that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who is a member of the Anti-Terrorism Council, allegedly joined in the red-tagging.

In a separate manifestation filed by the same group of petitioners, they said that in Esperon’s view, RMP’s advocacies to uplift marginalized sectors such as indigenous peoples “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.”

“IIn 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 SC is set to hold a preliminary conference on the case on November 26, but no date for the oral arguments has been announced.

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