Bank freeze order vs. church group to deprive poor of aid, services

Sr. Ellen Belardo, former national coordinator of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, chats with workers. Belardo faces arrest over perjury charges filed by Gen. Hermogenes Esperon. (Photo courtesy of RMP)

“But now more than ever, the RMP will live out its commitment to be servant-leaders with the poor farmers, fisherfolk, agricultural workers, and Indigenous Peoples so that all may truly experience God’s compassion and mercy in the here and now.”

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Amid the continuing crackdown on progressives, the Philippine government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council has issued a freeze order on the bank accounts of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, “depriving rural poor of the help and services they deserve, and that the government refuses to provide,” the church group said.

This, the RMP said, is the latest attack against them that “greatly encumbers our mission to collectively witness and act as Christ’s disciples with the rural poor, for them to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to live a life of justice and peace towards fullness of life promised to all God’s children.”

The 50-year-old institution is a national organization of religious men and women, priests, and lay who provide assistance to communities of peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, and agricultural workers.

The RMP said the accounts were created and maintained for completed and on-going projects of RMP, as well as for its internal operations. It added that the donations and funding they have received are used “to help the marginalized and oppressed.”

Compared to the government’s track record, the RMP said it has provided much-needed services to rural communities for the past 50 years.

Series of attacks

This is not the first time that RMP has been subjected to harassment.

Last year, military spokesman Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. went on a vilification-spree against RMP and several progressive organizations. RMP was among those who sought the protection of the Supreme Court as red-tagging often results to graver rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and illegal arrests.

The Court of Appeals, however, tasked by the High Court to hear their amparo petition, denied the legal remedy that human rights defenders were seeking.

Read: Rights groups ask SC to overturn CA’s denial of plea for protection

A perjury case filed by Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. against RMP’s former Chairperson Sr. Elen Belardo instead remains pending before a Quezon City court.

Read: How service to the poor filled the void in Sr. Elen’s heart

Apart from Belardo, other key RMP leaders and members are also facing trumped-up charges. These include Sr. Emma Cupin and lay worker Angie Ipong who are facing arson, kidnapping, and robbery, and frustrated murder, respectively. Just this morning, another RMP lay worker Mariell Domanquill was arrested along with four others in simultaneous raids in Tacloban City.

The tribals schools that the RMP has helped set up were also forcibly closed, with their two volunteer teachers Melissa Comiso and Nori Torregosa still in jail for trumped up charges.

“Our organization has been vilified and maligned — thru cowardly and baseless anonymous black propaganda materials, and thru equally cowardly and baseless official pronouncements of the government,” the RMP said.

Vague reasons

On Dec. 26, 2019, however, the anti-money laundering body issued Resolution TF-18, ordering for a 20-day freeze for three RMP accounts under the Bank of Philippine Islands, one of the country’s biggest banks.

RMP said the bank was also ordered to submit other bank accounts.

A petition to extend the freeze order up to six months was also filed before the Court of Appeals, despite what the RMP described as “very vague reasoning” that RMP is related to terror financing, which they strongly denied.

“We have our mission and community partners to confirm this,” they said.

On Jan. 9 and 13, the church group received notices from their bank, confirming that their accounts have been suspended, including two for the National Office and nine for Northern Mindanao.

Continue with advocacy

The attack against RMP, the church group said, is proof that living out one’s faith as a Christian and establishing the Church of the Poor, “will put your liberty and life at risk.”

“But now more than ever, the RMP will live out its commitment to be servant-leaders with the poor farmers, fisherfolk, agricultural workers, and Indigenous Peoples so that all may truly experience God’s compassion and mercy in the here and now,” the group said.

Instead of pouring their efforts on RMP, the group called on the government’s anti-money laundering body to instead go after those who are truly involved in crimes of laundering money through corruption and other crimes against the poor. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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