Denver Newsroom, Aug 16, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).
More than a dozen people, including several Catholic nuns, have been charged under the Philippines’ strict anti-terror law with allegedly financing terrorists.
UCA News reported Aug. 16 that sixteen people stand accused by the country’s Justice Department of financing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), which is branded a terrorist organization by the Philippine government.
If found guilty, those accused — whose names have not been released — would face up to 40 years in prison and a fine of between 500,000 to 1 million Philippine pesos, or $10,000-20,000 U.S.
The nuns are associated with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a Catholic group active in the Philippines since 1969 which works to aid and educate the poor. RMP is not itself an order or congregation, and religious members remain part of their respective communities and priests of their dioceses, the group’s website says.
The Justice Department of the Philippines froze several of the group’s bank accounts in 2019 after two people testified that RMP had wired money to the country’s Communist Party. The RMP has consistently denied any association with Communist activities in the Philippines, saying that part of their educational mission involves teaching poor people about their rights, and not about communism.
“This is absurd. We are not a communist organization or a communist front. We are not financing terrorist activities through our projects. Our projects are all well-documented, audited, and accounted for,” Sister Elenita Belardo, RMP national coordinator, told Rappler in March 2019.
UCA News notes that the so-called process of “red-tagging,” or “red-baiting,” has been common in the Philippines since the 1960s. “Red-tagging” is the “malicious” practice of labeling individuals or groups as “terrorists” or “communists” because they criticized the government, UCA News wrote. Human rights groups have accused the Justice Department of rushing the process and not allowing the nuns to defend themselves.
The anti-terror law under which the nuns have been charged came into force under Former President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in power from 2016 until June of this year. Duterte, who became widely known for his brutal tactics in addressing drug-related crime in the Philippines, clashed publicly with the Church on several occasions.
Under the law in question, anyone officials deem to have incited terrorism through “speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners and other representations” can be punished, NPR reported. The country’s Supreme Court upheld most of the 2020 law as constitutional while striking down a portion that they determined was overly broad in defining what constitutes terrorism, because it could have curtailed the exercise of civil rights like advocacy, protests, and strikes.
The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have likened the anti-terror law to the widely criticized national security laws that came into force in Hong Kong in 2020 and which China imposed on Hong Kong to tighten control by criminalizing broad definitions of “sedition” and “colluding with foreign forces.”
Writing in a July 2020 pastoral letter, the country’s bishops noted that the anti-terror law had been fast-tracked during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and that in their view the law poses a “serious threat to the fundamental freedoms of all peaceful Filipinos” whose advocacy activities could be branded as terrorism by unfriendly politicians.
“We know full well that it is one thing to be actually involved in a crime and another thing to be merely suspected or accused of committing a crime,” the bishops noted.
In a December 2019 speech, former President Duterte said people should “kill and steal” from Catholic bishops, stating “this stupid bunch serve no purpose – all they do is criticize.” He also called the bishops “idiots” and “sons of wh-res” and told the people that they should stay at home and pray rather than attend church services. Duterte’s opposition to the Church, according to one spokesman, stems from sexual abuse he underwent in Catholic school as a child.
The Philippines’ newly sworn-in president, Ferdinand “BongBong” Marcos Jr., is the son of the Philippines’ late longtime dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, whose often brutal authoritarian ruling style and corrupt practices also engendered clashes with the Catholic Church and led to his downfall in 1986. The vast majority of the Philippines’ 103 million people are Catholic.
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