Mindanao: Rural missionaries charged with financing communist terrorism

At least 16 individuals, including some nuns of the Rural Missionaries of Philippines, have been charged with the alleged crime of financing the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been leading an insurgency against the state for decades. The court could issue an arrest warrant. Rural missionaries actually defend the environment and the rights of local indigenous people.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Philippine Department of Justice has charged at least 16 people, including several nuns linked to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, with sending funds to the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (Cpp-Npa). 

The charges were filed yesterday in Iligan City Regional Court by Department of Justice lawyer Mico Clavano based on an investigation by the Anti-Money Laundering Council. The alleged offense, not subject to bail, was registered under the Terrorist Financing Act, which penalizes anyone who makes available "property or funds, financial services or other related services" to individuals or groups designated as terrorists by the government.

The Rural Missionaries of Philippines (Rmp) were designated as such in December 2020 by the Anti-Terrorism Council, but already the previous year their bank accounts had been blocked by the Anti-Money Laundering Council because they were suspected of financing the communist insurgency. In June this year, their website was taken down by the government. An arrest warrant may be issued against the defendants in the coming days.

In reality, the Rural Missionaries are a group of lay and religious people from different congregations working in Mindanao-the southern island of the Philippine archipelago-in defense of the environment and indigenous people. They had just celebrated their 53rd anniversary in the country yesterday when charges were filed against them.

The rural missionaries live alongside farmers and fishermen in one of the Philippines' poorest regions. In recent decades, land grabbing for timber exports or large-scale farming has gone hand in hand with the erosion of the rights of local indigenous tribes. Rural Missionaries has documented human rights violations against them, including the killing of 47 people.

One of those killed in Arakan in 2011 was Father Fausto Tentorio, a PIME missionary who had helped the Manobo tribals band together in agricultural cooperatives and called on Manila to recognize the rights of local indigenous people to their land.

The rural missionaries came into being in 1969, a few months after the formation of the New People's Army, an armed organization in the Maoist tradition that has been waging guerrilla warfare against the Philippine state for half a century to establish its own government. It grew from 350 members in 1971 to over 20,000 by the late 1980s. In some rural provinces the Cpp-Npa has managed to establish local governments that operate independently of Manila, collecting, for example, income taxes to self-finance themselves. By the 1910s, the group had received billion in logistical and financial support from former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, among others. In December 2019, former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had announced the end of peace talks with communist groups after designating them as terrorists in 2017.