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Philippines freezes bank accounts of rural missionaries

Move comes amid 'false' accusations that the group is aiding communist rebels

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: February 07, 2020 09:26 AM GMT
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Philippines freezes bank accounts of rural missionaries

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines has been serving poor communities in the country for 51 years. It was established on Aug. 15, 1969, as a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors. (Photo supplied)

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The Philippine government has frozen the bank accounts of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) for "probable cause," saying they are "related to terrorism financing."

The government's Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) ordered a 20-day freeze on three RMP accounts with the Bank of the Philippine Islands.

In a resolution dated Dec. 26, 2019, the AMLC also ordered the bank to submit details of related bank accounts and proposed the filing of a petition before the Court of Appeals to extend the freeze order to six months.

The RMP expressed its "utmost dismay" with the council, saying that the decision "greatly encumbers our mission to collectively witness and act as Christ’s disciples with the rural poor."

The bank notified the church organization last month that several accounts had been suspended: two for the national office and nine for its chapters in the northern Mindanao region.

"These accounts were created and maintained for completed and ongoing projects of RMP as well as for its internal operations," said the organization in a statement released on Feb. 6.

It also denied involvement "in any form of financing terrorism," adding that donations and funding received by the organization are used to implement projects and programs to help the poor.

"We have our mission and community partners to confirm this," said the group.

"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 added.

The RMP is a national organization, inter-congregational and inter-diocesan in character, of women and men religious, priests and laypeople.

The group, however, has been accused by government security officials of having links with communist rebels.

"We’ve been accused of being a communist and terrorist front. Our members have been harassed and threatened, forcing some of them to seek sanctuary elsewhere," read the group's statement.

Several senior RMP members have also been charged with various crimes including perjury, arson, kidnapping, robbery and frustrated murder.

Several tribal schools that were established or run by the organization in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao have been recently closed.

In its statement, the group said that "helping the poor, as Christians living out concretely your faith imperative and following the church mandate to establish the Church of the Poor, will put your liberty and life at risk."

The RMP was established on Aug. 15, 1969, as a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors.

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