CSOs Fightback Amid Attacks, Freezing of Accounts

CSOs Fightback Amid Attacks, Freezing of Accounts

NATIONAL – Attacks against development workers nationwide have become rampant, after cases were filed and the Anti-Money Laundering Council froze the bank accounts of some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).

In Negros Island, five former and current staff members of the “Paghida-et sa Kauswagan” Development Group, Inc. (PDG) were accused and charged, last April 29, with cases regarding the Terrorism Financing Act of 2012 by PMSG Francisco John Dumdumaya, deputized Anti-money Laundering Council (AMLC) Financial Investigator and a member of the Regional Intelligence Division of the Regional Police Office 6, Philippine National Police. According to the September 21 Movement, these accusations were based on sworn affidavits provided by Jonel Roy Moreno, identifying himself as the Finance and Logistic Officer and Commanding Officer of the Tahod Ilahas Command of the CPP-NPA operating in Negros, as well as sworn statements from Danilo and Jeonna Dela Cruz, members of a local fisherfolk association in Cauyan, Negros Occidental.

PDG is a Non-Government Organization (NGO) operating in Negros Occidental’s 5th and 6th Districts and is a key member of the Municipal Development Planning Council. Established in 1987, PDG was renowned for facilitating land ownership for farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Recently, PDG has aided 4,400 farmers in accessing over 2,000 hectares of land on the island.

In a statement, PDG denied the allegations against them and their members, saying that the cases filed were fabricated. “We find it deeply unfair that these allegations are being used to delegitimize and sanction our organization. PDG’s efforts are dedicated to supporting marginalized communities in Central to Southern Negros Occidental, striving for a just, decent, and humane quality of life. Despite significant setbacks due to baseless charges against our staff members and community leaders, we remain steadfast in upholding truth and justice,” said PDG.

The following day, April 30, following Resolution No. TF-89 dated April 5, the AMLC directed the Tacloban Branches of PSBank and Metrobank to freeze all personal and organizational bank accounts associated with Jazmin ‘Minet’ A. Jerusalem and LCDe, the organization she led. Subsequently, on May 2, the banks complied with this directive. The AMLC resolution linked said accounts to terrorist financing under the Republic Act No. 10168 (Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012), designating Ms. Jerusalem and her staff, as well as LCDe as terrorist individuals and organizations. In a statement, Jerusalem said that these allegations and actions made by the AMLC were “baseless, unjust, and malicious”.

Additionally, accounts linked to LCDe, including the suppliers where they purchased the materials they gave to disaster-affected communities in Eastern Visayas were also frozen. Moreover, accounts of their partners such as the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC), a disaster response organization based in Quezon City, were not spared.

The Citizens’ Disaster Response Network (CDRN), a network of DRRM organizations in the Philippines, of which LCDe and CDRC are members, said that “this order from the government to freeze the accounts of LCDe and CDRC equates to the suspension of said organization’s services to millions of marginalized and poor families in Eastern Visayas and around the country who receive little to no help from the government itself”.

LCDe, an award-winning NGO, has received numerous recognitions from local and international bodies for its dedication to serving the marginalized and vulnerable sectors in Eastern Visayas affected by disasters since 1988. In 2003, LCDe received the Salamat Po Award from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region 8 to its Most Outstanding Partner in Social Work. In 2007, LCDe received the National Gawad Kalasag Award from the Department of National Defense, recognizing it as the Best Humanitarian Assistance NGO in the country. In 2015, the Philippine National Volunteers Association recognized LCDe as the Most Outstanding NGO in Volunteer Work and Leader. Moreover, its Executive Director, Ms. Jerusalem, received the International Climate Heroine Award in 2017 given to the Most Outstanding Woman Leader in Disaster Risk Reduction by INGO CARE Germany. In 2021, Ms. Jerusalem was the only Filipina among ten recipients, out of more than 300 nominees, of the United Nations Women in DRR Leadership Award. In 2023, the National Anti-Poverty Commission recognized Ms. Jerusalem for her 15 years of service as a regional council member.

Meanwhile, CDRC, apart from being the secretariat of CDRN, is also the lead convenor of the DRRNetPhils, which is one of the civil society organization (CSO) representatives in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). DRRNetPhils is a network of more than 60 organizations and individuals from the academe and other disaster risk reduction (DRR) practitioners that supported the passage of the Republic Act (RA) No. 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act of 2010.

“Development and humanitarian workers are not terrorists. In this critical moment when economic, political, and even climate crises worsen the disasters and their impact on the Filipino people, attacking the very sector that fills in the gap of the government in its lack of support to the people, will not help alleviate the latter from poverty and will not minimize the suffering they are already experiencing,” said CDRN.

International and Local Support

Following the attack against PDG, Quinoa, a Belgian NGO and youth organization founded in Belgium in 1991, working on Global Citizenship Education, released a statement. “Quinoa has always worked in close and steady partnership with Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group Incorporated (PDG, Inc) in the framework of international projects and towards joint pedagogical purposes,” said Quinoa. “Having known PDG for many years as an organization of utmost integrity, we consider these allegations to be ludicrous, totally unfounded, and extremely dangerous for those accused, their relatives, and PDG as an organization,” the group added.

On May 19, the German Embassy released a statement of support to LCDe saying that the latter was a “reliable partner in the implementation of the project”. “The recent freezing of the accounts of the LCDe by the AMLC including the private accounts of the founder of the NGO, Ms. Jazmin Jerusalem and her family, are detriment to our efforts to improve the living conditions of the beneficiaries in poor and marginalized regions of Samar and Leyte. We expect the quick review of the freezing to allow the NGO to continue their work,” said the Embassy.

Other local networks such as the Councill for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) and Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) also released statements of support to said organizations, saying that these attacks were never new as other CSOs like Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET) in Cebu, Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) in Northern Luzon, and others around the country have experienced similar attacks.

CSOs Fight Back

Assisted by the NUPL-Eastern Visayas (NUPL-EV), LCDe lodged a petition on May 17 with the Court of Appeals in Cebu City, seeking clarification on the grounds for the freeze order imposed on them. They also requested the lifting of these orders on both their organizational bank accounts and those of their staff. “This case demonstrates our well-founded fears since Calleja v. Executive Secretary—that anyone maliciously linked to the communist movement or to any person it brands to be a terrorist stands to have their civil liberties curtailed,” NUPL-EV President Atty. Alberto Hidalgo said. “The AMLC seems to be the judge, jury, and executioner in issuing targeted financial sanctions. How can the principle of effective judicial protection be observed when vast powers are concentrated in one executive body or two and we have no idea what happens behind their closed doors?” he added.

Meanwhile, yesterday, June 3, the NUPL also assisted CDRC in filing a petition to the Court, questioning the factual and legal bases of freezing its bank accounts by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). “This malicious tarnishing and freezing of assets belonging to red-tagged NGOs creates a chilling effect on their advocacies and stifles their right to utilize their resources to pursue aims that otherwise fall under protected freedoms,” said Atty. Cortez.

PDG, LCDe, CDRC, and other CSOs clarified that they are not enemies of the state. On the contrary, they have been working with the government in alleviating poverty and addressing different societal problems. Said groups call on the government to stop the attacks against development workers and immediately unfreeze their bank accounts so they can continue serving the poor./PT


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