Cebu NGO seeks dismissal of terrorism complaint

‘COMMUNISTS.’ In a press conference called by the AFP Visayas Command on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, officials of the 302nd Brigade claimed they had proof that the nongovernment organization Cernet is a legal front of the New People’s Army (NPA). According to the military, while Cernet has been developing programs for farmers or poor communities with funding from a foreign organization, 60 percent of funds actually go to the NPA for their operations in Negros Islands and other areas of Eastern Visayas. / Arnold Bustamante
‘COMMUNISTS.’ In a press conference called by the AFP Visayas Command on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, officials of the 302nd Brigade claimed they had proof that the nongovernment organization Cernet is a legal front of the New People’s Army (NPA). According to the military, while Cernet has been developing programs for farmers or poor communities with funding from a foreign organization, 60 percent of funds actually go to the NPA for their operations in Negros Islands and other areas of Eastern Visayas. / Arnold Bustamante

A NON-PROFIT organization has called for the immediate dismissal of a terrorism complaint against its former members filed by an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) official.

On Aug. 13, 2023, the Community Empowerment Resource Network (Cernet) received a subpoena from the Department of Justice (DOJ) over a complaint filed by Brig. Gen. Joey Escanillas, commander of the joint Task Group Cebu - Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The complaint was filed against 27 individuals who are former council members, board members, staff, and a member of a partner organization for the alleged violation of Republic Act 10168, or the “Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suspension Act of 2012.”

Justine Villarante, executive director of Cernet, said during a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 28, that the group debunks the allegations since the primary witness, Bernabe Nieves, a former staff member of Cernet, was terminated due to grave misconduct and violation of the group’s ethics.

Cernet is a consortium or group of different civil society organizations based in the Visayas currently composed of 10 members. The non-profit organization provides small funds to people’s organizations and capacitates them according to their projects.

Villarante said organizations seeking help from Cernet must adhere to strict compliance and training to prove that projects are viable.

“Di man pud mi basta basta maghatag og funds (We do not just dispense funds indiscriminately),” said Villarante.

Grounds for complaint

In a press statement Thursday, the Visayas Command AFP said Cernet violated RA 10168 by being a fund generation scheme of the New People’s Army (NPA), a communist terrorist group (CTG), since 2001 to support its logistical and financial requirements.

The AFP claims that nongovernment organizations (NGOs) make project proposals addressed to various international foundations and that once approved for funding, the funds are distributed where a portion is for the projects while a significant portion will be directed to the finance officer of the CTG.

“In such cases, a substantial portion of the approved funds has been channeled directly to the CTG, leaving only a fraction for the concerned People’s Organizations,” the AFP said in its press statement.

The AFP said the results suggest there is clear evidence of terrorism financing linked to the CTG and Cernet and staff are held responsible for the destruction of lives and properties.

“This action is intended to aid in putting an end to the scourge of terrorism,” the AFP said.

Legal action

However, Mel Ebo from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) Cebu chapter said the claims are false and baseless and are based on dubious statements and that Cernet has presented its financial statements during external auditing.

“Now we will first face the case in the DOJ. We will submit our counter-affidavit as required by the rules,” Ebo said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

Ebo said the legal team will study possible actions against the complainants and witnesses.

Case filing

On May 23, 2023, the AFP Visayas Command filed a case through the 302nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 against Cernet, which is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a non-stock, non-profit organization with headquarters in Cebu City.

Escanillas, commander of the 302nd Brigade, said at a press conference called by the Visayas Command on Thursday, that although the legal front organization has been developing programs for farmers or the poor community groups with funding from a foreign organization, 60 percent of the funds actually go to the NPA for their operations in Negros Islands and other areas of Eastern Visayas.

Escanillas said based on their calculations, Cernet has raised more than P300 million since 2012, but only a small percentage of that amount has gone to the underprivileged because the organization’s primary beneficiaries are the terrorists.

“This terrorist group’s strategy has evolved. They used development workers from the created NGO as their front to help the marginalized sectors address their issues. The NGO then makes project proposals addressed to various international foundations,” Escanillas said.

Up to 27 people have been named as defendants in the lawsuits, including a well-known human rights lawyer in Cebu City and the Farmers Development Center (Fardec), a group that advocates for farmers.

The NPA’s ability to recruit new members and purchase weapons and ammunition to use against the military would be significantly impacted and the financial backing of a foreign organization would be terminated if the case were to be completely brought in court.

Col. Ehdel Pereira, head of the Regional Legal Office for the PRO 7, said they were the ones who prepared the documents that will be presented in court.

In addition to Cernet, another people’s organization is set to be sued after it was discovered that it also allegedly provided financial support to the communist group operating in the Visayas region. (RJM, AYB, TPT)

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