By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan expressed concern over the recent issuance of Executive Order 33 directing government agencies to adopt the National Anti-Money Laundering, Counter-Terrorism Financing, and Counter Proliferation Financing Strategy (NACS) 2023-2027.
EO 33 was signed on July 4 by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as the Philippine government aims to exit the “gray list” of countries identified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an informal intergovernmental body formed in the 1989 G7 Summit.
According to Karapatan, “the FATF has mainstreamed so-called soft laws on money laundering and terrorist financing, despite a glaring lack of use of the framework of international human rights laws and instruments.”
In particular, the human rights watchdog said that the FATF’s issuance of Special Recommendation VIII (SR VIII) specifically targets non-profit organizations or non-governmental organizations.
“Governments have implemented such recommendations and as a result, it has been increasingly difficult for non-governmental organizations, especially human rights groups, worldwide to access funds for relief and development efforts due to the overbroad FATF criteria,” the group said in a statement.
They added that “many NGOs have been forced to shut down and its human rights defenders are adversely affected by FATF-prescribed measures.”
According to a report, the Philippines entered the gray list in 2021.
Karapatan said that the adoption of the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act in the Philippines are the direct results of the government’s desire to comply with the FATF’s criteria.
These laws, Karapatan said, have been used against the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and the national federation of peasant women Amihan and other NGOs “for alleged violation of the terrorism financing act, as well as the designation as terrorists and the filing of anti-terrorism charges against several political activists.”
“All these have been part of the government’s frenzied moves to be deemed compliant with the FATF,” the group said in a statement.
While the Court of Appeals has lifted the freeze order on one of Amihan’s bank accounts, Karapatan said the group is still unable to access its funds because its accounts have been declared dormant by the bank.
“The RMP is facing its legal battles on two fronts: a criminal case before an Iligan City court and a civil forfeiture case involving 15 bank accounts before a Manila court. Meanwhile, its health, educational and other development projects based in some of the country’s poorest communities have ground to a halt,” Karapatan said.
“With EO 33, which calls for more stringent implementation of FATF recommendations, we can anticipate its dire results: the designation as terrorists of even more political activists and the curtailment of even more pro-people and development-oriented programs on false and malicious accusations of terrorist linkages,” Karapatan said.
The group said the government has reportedly completed a two-year audit/examination of 21 “non-profit organizations” (from 2020 to 2022), but declined to name these organizations.
“The question that progressive organizations are asking is, on whose heads will the axe fall next, as the government attempts to scramble its way out of the ‘gray list’?” Karapatan said.
“And yet, the Philippines remains a money-laundering paradise for big-time crime syndicates through casinos, POGOs, poorly regulated money service businesses and even the much-anticipated (by money-launderers) and largely audit-exempt Maharlika Investment Fund,” they added.
In reaction to the issuance of the EO 33, human rights lawyer and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Ephraim Cortez said the EO is meant to heighten the government’s existing mechanisms and issuances and make it more repressive.
“We saw the trend, how the existing laws and issuances have been used against activists and mass organizations. We saw the freezing of accounts of organizations (RMP and Amihan) and those who were ‘designated’ as terrorists. This EO will further be used to stifle dissent,” Cortez told Bulatlat in an online interview.
“EO 33 must be exposed and opposed for what it is: an order to further suppress dissent and curtail the pro-people and development-oriented activities of progressive organizations,” Karapatan said. (RTS, JJE)