Filipino nuns charged with funding terrorists deny links to communist group

A display opposing the passage of the anti-terrorism law under which the nuns have been charged, at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, June 17, 2020. A display opposing the passage of the anti-terrorism law under which the nuns have been charged, at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, June 17, 2020. | Dexter Acebes/Shutterstock

A group of Filipino nuns has strongly denied any connection with terrorist activities after facing charges last month brought by the government under a controversial anti-terror law. 

The nuns are members of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a Catholic group active in the Philippines since 1969 which works to aid and educate the poor. RMP is not itself an order or congregation, and religious members remain part of their respective communities and priests of their dioceses, the group’s website says. 

UCA News reported Aug. 16 that sixteen people — including five nuns — stand accused by the country’s Justice Department of financing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), which is branded a terrorist organization by the Philippine government. 

The CPP and NPA were designated terrorist groups by the U.S. Department of State in 2002. The CPP has been fighting the Filipino government in a communist rebellion since 1969.

Speaking out late last month, the nuns said that they care for and educate the poor on their rights and do not recruit or raise funds for any communist group. 

“We have raised this in many instances. We are not the enemy of the government. We have not aided or helped any terrorist group. Our projects go directly to aid the people,” they said in an Aug. 30 statement as reported by UCA News.

“As missionaries, we are unapologetic and unwavering in our commitment to working in poor areas, even when these areas are visited by militarization and armed conflict,” the group said.

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 CPP. 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 “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 group said Aug. 30 they “will neither be cowed nor impeded by the renewed attacks.”

“We will not cower, even as we are afraid. God gives us strength and wisdom, quickening our steps and assuring our safety…Those who seek to besmirch our ministry, by saying it supported or financed ‘terrorism,’ should be held to account; their lies will only further the suffering and poverty in marginalized communities.”

The anti-terror law under which the nuns have been charged came into force under President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in power from 2016 until June 2022. 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.” 

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. In a December 2019 speech, former President Duterte said people should "kill and steal" from Catholic bishops, stating "this stupid bunch serve no purpose – all they do is criticize.” He also called the bishops "idiots" and "sons of wh-res" and told the people that they should stay at home and pray rather than attend church services.

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