Terrorism financing accusation ‘part of worsening state repression’ against rights defenders

Rural missionaries in the Philippines say continued state harassment and attacks have already weakened its ability to help poor communities

MANILA, Philippines – The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) on Thursday (August 18) denounced charges brought by the Department of Justice (DOJ) of allegedly providing funds to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP -NPA).

In a statement, the religious group called the DOJ’s latest decision “Marcosian” and said it was part of “the state’s deepening crackdown on human rights defenders” in the countries, which affected the ability of the group to carry out its work.

“Why does the government – especially of [Rodrigo] Duterte to [Ferdinand Marcos Jr.] – determined to use all the resources at his disposal to shut down the [RMP] for good?” he asked.

“The Marcos [Jr.] The government is using the same playbook as its predecessor Duterte in demonizing legal democratic organizations such as RMP which provide much needed services to the people and put its members in direct danger,” the group added.

The DOJ on Monday, August 15, indicted at least 16 people, including nuns, affiliated with the RMP for allegedly violating Section 8(ii) of Republic Act 10168 or the Terrorist Financing Act, which penalizes those found guilty of making “available any property or funds, or financial or other related services” to an individual or group designated as a terrorist by the government.

The DOJ alleged that the religious group transferred some of the funds it received from foreign organizations to the CPP-NPA, based on an investigation by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and testimony from people who claimed to be former communist insurgents.

RMP, however, stressed that all of its projects are “well documented, reported and accounted for” and that it has always complied with the requirements for securing project funding, including audits.

The terrorism financing charge is the latest in a series of challenges facing the 53-year-old RMP, a non-profit run mostly by nuns and other lay people involved in grassroots work with poor rural communities.

Its website was blocked in June 2022 on the orders of then-national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., while several bank accounts have been frozen by the AMLC over the years.

The RMP said on Thursday that continued state harassment had already “negatively affected” its work in various marginalized sectors, including peasants, indigenous peoples and other members of poor rural communities.

“RMP’s missionary work has been seriously hampered by relentless attacks by the state, depriving the poor of much-needed services,” the group said.

“With this latest state attack, Marcos [Jr.] shows that he is, after all, true to his heart as the son of the dictator,” RMP added.

The RMP has not been designated as a terrorist group by any court in the country, nor by the counter-terrorism council under the counter-terrorism law – unlike the CPP-NPA which was labeled as such in 2020.

Read RMP’s full statement below.

– Rappler.com