Foreign partners support Karapatan vs. red-tagging

“Karapatan will continue its human rights work, as it has done under perilous conditions for more than 20 years. These series of attacks [by state security forces against human rights defenders] have strengthened our commitment. We will not be cowed. We will always march for, protect, and defend the human rights of the people.”

Thus the Philippine human rights alliance declared on April 1. It welcomed the announcements by the European Union and the Belgian government that they would look into the allegations that, along with other human rights defenders, the Karapatan acts as “front organization” of the CPP-NPA and that it rechannels overseas funding it receives to the revolutionary armed struggle.

The accusation was made by a team of the Duterte government’s National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF for short), after it had made a round of EU member-states urging them to stop funding certain organizations that have been critical of the administration.

Karapatan has countered that the accusation is “malicious and false… a frantic, outrageous and desperate attempt to gloss over [the government’s] horrendous human rights record.” The aim, it adds, is to “deflect state accountability on the numerous extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights violations and to undermine the work of the human rights defenders in the Philippines.”

In a security report by the Philippine government in October 2018, the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development stated there was no evidence proving that non-profit organizations (NPOs) – the more common term in the Philippines is non-government organizations or NGOs – were being used for “terrorist funding.” This same report, Karapatan said, noted that earlier accusations had been based on hearsay and that the NPOs are not the preferred mode of raising funds for so-called threat groups.

Last week Karapatan filed three sets of complaints on the Duterte government’s smear campaign against human rights defenders to these United Nations officials: Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst, and Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Clement Nyaletsossi Voule.

It had earlier filed similar complaints on cases of threat, harassment and intimidation, red-tagging and terrorist-labelling at the Commission on Human Rights and the GRP-NDFP Joint Monitoring Committee on the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front.

Recently a major support-funding organization in Europe came out in full support of Karapatan.

It’s named Aktionsbundnis Menschenrechte-Philippinen (AMP), an initiative of seven major German church-based agencies and human rights organizations, that provides advocacy and information service in Germany and the EU on the human rights situation in the Philippines. Members are: Amnesty International-Germany, Bread for the World, International Peace Observers Network, MISEREOR, Missio Munich, Philippinenburo e V im Asienhaus, and the United Evangelical Mission. Most of these organizations have long supported Philippine concerns, notably during the Filipino struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.

In a letter to DILG Secretary Eduardo Año and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dated April 9, the AMP expressed deep concern over the Duterte government’s attempts to “discredit civil society organizations, including a number of long-standing partners of our network, by describing them as front organizations of the communist New People’s Army.”

“Ever since the breakdown of the GRP-NDFP peace talks in late 2017,” AMP noted, “harassment, defamation and murder of activists, including land and environmental rights defenders, who are wrongly portrayed as state enemies, communist rebels or terrorists, [have] increased considerably.” While this defamation drive is “nothing new” in the country, AMP added, the Duterte government has also taken other steps to “systematically hamper [the activists’] work.”

AMP cited as one such step the NTF’s accusation, in meetings with the EU and Belgian government in February, that NGOs (including Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries in the Philippines, IBON Foundation, and ALCADEV) were diverting funds received from abroad to the communist rebels.

In late March however, AMP pointed out, “the EU delegation in Manila released a press statement saying that it had so far not been able to verify the allegation, but would conduct a financial audit of one of the accused NGOs.”

“Since the AMP and its members have worked with these organizations for many years, we can attest that the accusations are unfounded and aimed at silencing voices critical of the government,” the letter said.

AMP also noted that in November 2018, the SEC issued Memorandum Circular No. 15 which mandates NGOs to disclose detailed information on their funding sources, current and intended beneficiaries, and the amount of funds received. “Based on an undisclosed point system,” it observed, “organizations will also be assessed whether they pose a risk of money laundering or financing terror. If an organization is deemed to be ‘high-risk’, it will be subjected to enhanced monitoring and surveillance measures.”

The German funding consortium expressed concern over these administrative measures, “which seem to be designed to complicate the registration of NGOs and to limit their access to foreign funding.” Along with the widespread defamation of NGOs and increased violence they suffer, AMP lamented, “these new attempts to obstruct their work are part of a systematic crackdown against civil society in the Philippines.”

The AMP appealed to both the Philippine government and the EU to forestall the worsening of the above-described situation in the country, It called on the Duterte government to take “all necessary steps” to protect human rights defenders from harassment, violence, and killings and likewise to protect their freedom of association; direct state security forces and agencies to refrain from making statements that stigmatize them; and guarantee the right of NPOs/NGOs to seek, receive and utilize funding from national, foreign, and international sources.

To the EU, the AMP urged the Union to publicly declare support to all human rights organizations in the Philippines, “especially those on which it has received accusations [from the NTF].” Further, in suggested that the EU consider the withdrawal of trade preferences given to the Philippines under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences, unless the Duterte government takes immediate steps on the AMP’s recommendations.

Given the uneasy relationship between the Duterte regime and the EU, particularly on human rights issues, it would be interesting to find out what the response of either one would be.

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Published in Philippine Star
April 13, 2019

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