Missionaries say work for the rural poor hampered by relentless attacks

Graphics by Aaron Macaraeg/Bulatlat


MANILA – The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) decried that the continued demonization of their work “has negatively affected various ministries in sustainable agriculture, rural schools, disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation, health services, defense of human rights, and organic farming.”

The 53-year-old non-government organization of priests, nuns and lay persons is facing yet another case. On August 15, the Department of Justice filed 55 counts of violation of the Section 8 of the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 or RA 10168 before the regional trial court of Iligan City. The case is non-bailable.

In a statement, RMP asserts that all its projects are reported and accounted for contrary to the allegations against them.

RMP is the oldest mission partner of the Conference of Major Superiors in the Philippines, primarily serving farmers, fisherfolks and indigenous peoples, empowering them by educating them on their rights.

“RMP’s mission work has been seriously hampered because of the relentless state attacks, depriving much-needed services to the poor,” Sister Rebecca D. Pacete of the RMP said.

“This goes against RMP’s mandate which takes inspiration from Pope John Paul when he stressed the conditions of the peasants who were ‘forced to cultivate the land belonging to others and are exploited by the big landowners, without any hope of ever being able to gain possession of even a small piece of land of their own,'” she added.

The DOJ alleged that the RMP is providing funds for the New People’s Army based on testimonies of people claiming to be former members of the underground group.

Pacete said their group “has complied with requirements in securing funds for their projects, including audits.”

They denounced the charges filed against its members including a lawyer and a detained church worker.

They expressed serious concern for the safety of those who were charged, of whom two are already in jail for trumped-up charges.

They said that the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and its predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte, “is using the same playbook by demonizing legal democratic organizations such as RMP which provide much-needed services to the people and putting its members in direct harm’s way.”

“Rabid and lethal red tagging, weaponization of the law, and impunity for human rights violations continue to be state policies that must be vigorously opposed,” Pacete said.

In December 2019, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) froze three of RMP’s bank accounts and in 2020, it eventually expanded to RMP’s other accounts.

Read via our mirror site: Bank freeze order vs. church group to deprive poor of aid, services

Its former national coordinator, Sr. Elenita Belardo, 83, was charged with perjury by former National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogens Esperon Jr.

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

The RMP’s website is also among the 27 websites blocked by the National Telecommunications Commission.

“Why is the government – especially from Duterte to Marcos II — hellbent in using all resources at its disposal to shut down the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) for good?” Pacete asked.

The Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao, in it’s earlier statement, said that the accusations are baseless and unvetted. A news report also said that the DOJ also did not present any document to back its claim citing “privacy reason.”

Read via our mirror site: Charges against 16 individuals unvetted, baseless – lawyers group

RMP also obtained information that one of the two alleged former NPA members was presented after the authorities arrested her mother. In exchange for her mother’s release, she executed a spurious statement accusing RMP members of channeling funds to the CPP-NPA, the statement revealed.

“As part of government’s counter-insurgency program, ‘surrenderees’ have been used to link legal democratic organizations to the CPP-NPA while lining the pockets of corrupt officials in the process,” the group said.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Peoples lawyers (NUPL) laments the charges against the 16 individuals, including their national auditor, Czarina “Dingkay” Golda Musni.

“From our perspective, this is not only weaponization of the law but weaponization against the very lawyers fighting such insidious policy and practice,” the NUPL said in a statement.

They added that the baseless charge of terrorist financing against Musni and the RMP sisters and staff is but “one of the many attempts to weaken the support for the advancement of the peoples’ rights in Northern Mindanao.”

The group vows to stand with Musni, saying, “We will stand by Dingkay in all fora as we have stood by not only our persecuted clients but our very own colleagues under attack as well, whose only crime is to serve the interests and welfare of the people selflessly and valiantly.” (RTS, RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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