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Two Filipino priests among activists facing terror funding charges

The 27 accused are charged with delivering cash to a front of the New People’s Army in Negros Oriental
Members of the communists' armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), walk past a hammer and sickle flag displayed in a village as they mark the 46th anniversary of its founding, on the southern island of Mindanao, on Dec. 26, 2014.

Members of the communists' armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), walk past a hammer and sickle flag displayed in a village as they mark the 46th anniversary of its founding, on the southern island of Mindanao, on Dec. 26, 2014. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 21, 2024 11:44 AM GMT
Updated: May 22, 2024 05:44 AM GMT

Advocacy groups have urged the Philippine government to drop “terror” charges against 27 activists, including two Catholic priests, who are accused of financing a communist rebel group in Negros island.

The accused are charged with funding a front of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Oriental, where a decades-long communist insurgency has endured.

All the accused are affiliated with the Community Empowerment Resource Network based in Cebu City in the central Philippines. They have been charged with violating the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.

The New People’s Army, an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been identified as a terrorist group by the government.

The Cebu City's regional trial court on May 14 issued an arrest order against the accused, but they were not arrested as the court granted them bail. However, they face trial.

The two accused Catholic priests are Fathers Herbert Fran Fadriquela Jr. and Merlin Logronio, according to a May 17 report in Cebu-based online publication Sunstar.

UCA News tried contacting the priests and the other accused, but none was available to respond.

UCA News also contacted the office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on May 21 for a response but was asked to wait.

Government seeks conviction 

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has reportedly ordered the government prosecutors to ensure convictions in the case, urging them “to put behind bars all financiers of terrorism.”

“Either you are with us in safeguarding the welfare of our children and future generations or not at all; the choice is up to you," Remulla told reporters in Manila on May 20.

He warned the public against financing terrorist groups, saying they “will face extreme consequences as harsh as those met by the terrorists themselves.”

“We will never stop running after terrorists who continue to sow fear among our communities; you have no place in our society,” Remulla said, as reported by Manila Bulletin.

At a press conference on May 17, the counsel for the accused said they have yet to receive a copy of the preliminary investigation of the charges against the 27 individuals.

They have been accused of delivering 135,000 pesos (US$ 2,320) in cash to the South Eastern Front (SEF) of the communist rebels in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental in 2012.

The fund given in September 2012 was aimed at helping the rebels secure food, armaments, ammunitions, firearms, medical supplies, and other operational requirements, the Department of Justice panel said in its resolution.

It was "undeniably an act of ‘making available funds’ to a ‘designated’ terrorist organization,’" and hence, punishable, the department said.

Since the violation comes from an organization, which is a juridical person, the penalty "shall be imposed upon its responsible officers who allowed" the crime to take place. Hence, "the recommended indictment of all respondents,” the resolution added.

Trumped up charges

Advocacy groups have called these "trumped-up" charges and urged the government to junk them.

Networks like that of the accused capacitate peoples' organizations and "compensate for the government’s lack of adequate service,” said a May 17 statement from the rights group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan in Central Visayas.

The accused are respected professionals, including four doctors, two lawyers, priests, and "dedicated development workers,” the group was quoted as saying by Sunstar

Bayan said that various organizations have “condemned this attack, defining it not only as an assault on development workers but also on all Filipinos longing for adequate social services.”

The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights on May 16 said the case "is most absurd” because the 27 accused development workers "have no money and had to borrow" 200,000 pesos to post their bail security. 

It accused the government of "weaponizing" anti-terrorism law "to harass and try to silence activists and non-governmental organization workers,” it added.

Such cases are a “trademark violation of civil and political rights committed by the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government,” the trade union said. 

The arrest order against the 27 came after the Philippine Army’s Visayas Command, in collaboration with other officials, filed charges against them on Sept. 28, 2023.

The army alleged the organization of the accused "has long been utilized" by the communist terrorist group for "its fund generation scheme since 2001 basically to support its logistical and financial requirements.”

Besides extortion, the communist group also generated funds legally through NGOs to support their disruptive activities, the army said in an earlier statement.

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