The Justice Department of the Philippines froze several of the group’s bank accounts in 2019 after two people testified that RMP had wired money to the country’s Communist Party. The RMP has consistently denied any association with Communist activities in the Philippines, saying that part of their educational mission involves teaching poor people about their rights, and not about communism.
"This is absurd. We are not a communist organization or a communist front. We are not financing terrorist activities through our projects. Our projects are all well-documented, audited, and accounted for," Sister Elenita Belardo, RMP national coordinator, told Rappler in March 2019.
UCA News notes that the so-called process of “red-tagging,” or “red-baiting,” has been common in the Philippines since the 1960s. “Red-tagging” is the “malicious” practice of labeling individuals or groups as “terrorists” or “communists” because they criticized the government, UCA News wrote. Human rights groups have accused the Justice Department of rushing the process and not allowing the nuns to defend themselves.
The anti-terror law under which the nuns have been charged came into force under Former President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in power from 2016 until June of this year. Duterte, who became widely known for his brutal tactics in addressing drug-related crime in the Philippines, clashed publicly with the Church on several occasions.
Under the law in question, anyone officials deem to have incited terrorism through "speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners and other representations" can be punished, NPR reported. The country’s Supreme Court upheld most of the 2020 law as constitutional while striking down a portion that they determined was overly broad in defining what constitutes terrorism, because it could have curtailed the exercise of civil rights like advocacy, protests, and strikes.
The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have likened the anti-terror law to the widely criticized national security laws that came into force in Hong Kong in 2020 and which China imposed on Hong Kong to tighten control by criminalizing broad definitions of “sedition” and “colluding with foreign forces.”