A United Nations (UN) special mandates report raised serious concerns over repeated allegations of the Philippine government’s misuse of counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws against members of the clergy and other activists.
Six UN Special Rapporteurs said it received reports of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, killing, and filing of fabricated charges against civil society activists from 2019 to 2023, spanning the second half of the Rodrigo Duterte government and the first year of the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.
“We express our serious concern over the allegations of judicial harassment, office raids, targeted financial sanctions, asset freezing, and other administrative sanctions against religious groups, Indigenous Peoples, and organizations,” the experts also said.
In a report dated October 10, 2023, but only made public this week, the experts also expressed concern over the Philippine government’s over-broad definition of terrorism in its law, Republic Act 11479.
“We note with concern that there appears to be an observable trend in the Philippines, whereby individuals and groups associated with churches, who are living out their faith through development and humanitarian work, have been linked by the government to CPP-NPA-NDFP (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines),” the report reads.
“We also express serious concern about the seemingly broad and unchecked executive powers implicated by the allegations—particularly the discretion of the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate individuals and organizations as “terrorist” and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to adopt targeted financial sanctions thereafter,” it added.
The experts said the Philippine government has also employed its counter-terrorism financing oversight powers broadly and arbitrarily against non-profit organizations and individuals, including the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.
The UN experts said it looked into reports on 24 victims who included two bishops and another clergy, a journalist, indigenous rights advocates, lawyers, non-profit organizations, and other human rights defenders.
The report said the Duterte government filed a reply to the UN in 2020, assuring the international community of its compliance with international human rights standards but still urged Manila to provide those it charges with crimes “all appropriate legal safeguards.”
The experts’ findings were submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.
Aolain was joined in the report by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; José Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
“We are concerned that such measures risk obstructing the delivery of vital and well-protected humanitarian, human rights, and development services,” they said, adding such moves violate the Philippines’ human rights obligations under international law.