Court orders arrest of 26 NGO members, labor leaders in Cebu on charges of "terrorism financing"

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In a May 13 order, a Cebu City court ordered the arrest of 26 current and former staff of the Community Empowerment Resource Network (Cernet) Inc and a labor leader on charges of “terrorism financing.” Cernet Inc, Karapatan-Central Visayas and other groups condemned this case which they dismissed as lies and baseless accusations. Those charged include one person unknown to the organization and three who have since passed away.

The Department of Justice filed the case based on the Armed Forces of the Philippines Visayas Command (AFP Viscom) complaint filed in May 2023. The case was based on a statement by AFP “witness” Bernabe Nieves, a former Cernet Inc. staffer, who had previously been sanctioned for grave misconduct and violations of the organization’s code of ethics.

Nieves’ statement claims that Cernet Inc gave ₱135,000 to the New People’s Army (NPA)-South East Negros in Dumaguete City in September 2012.

“We assail the campaign of terror carried out by government apparatuses through the nonsensical filing of trumped up charges against those affiliated with the Cernet,” Karapatan-Central Visayas said. This move is solely driven by their militarist goal of annihilating any vestiges of democracy in this country, including the operation of organizations that work to uplift the poverty of the basic sectors.

Among the victims were four doctors, two lawyers, priests and development workers. Jaime Paglinawan, president of AMA Sugbo-KMU, which is one of Cernet’s related organizations, was also implicated in the case.

“The charges are nothing but ludicrous, utterly baseless, and extremely dangerous for those accused and for CERNET … that has been assisting different people’s organizations since 2001,” added Karapatan-Central Visayas.

Apart from this, the defendants’ lawyer also said that the DoJ did not give them a resolution in relation to the preliminary investigation it conducted in September 2023. The victims were surprised that there was already a case filed in court, he said.

As the victims continue to fight the repressive case, they posted bail for their temporary freedom. Despite the DoJ’s recommendation not to allow the accused to post bail, the court set the bail at ₱200,000 per individual. Of the 27 accused, 23 are out on bail.

The national office of Karapatan said the case of “terrorism financing” in Cernet follows many similar cases of harassment against democratic organizations and their members. In April alone, a series of charges of “terrorism” and “terrorism financing” were filed against the Leyte Center for Development (LCDe) and Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group Inc. (PDG) on the island of Negros.

AB: Court orders arrest of 26 NGO members, labor leaders in Cebu on charges of "terrorism financing"