Caritas PH joins petitioners calling to junk anti-terror law

Caritas PH joins petitioners calling to junk anti-terror law

Four national networks of humanitarian, development, and faith-based organizations filed the 36th petition against the anti-terrorism law at the Supreme Court Sept. 21.

By CBCP News

September 21, 2020

Manila, Philippines

A law so vague on the definition of terrorism can only worsen the attacks against humanitarian workers, the Church’s social action arm said as it joined a long list of petitioners seeking to scrap the anti-terrorism law.

Four national networks of humanitarian, development, and faith-based organizations filed the 36th petition against the law on Monday, arguing it will legitimize current attacks against them.

Fr. Tony Labiao, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said that even church work is not exempted from red-tagging harassment.

“Not only in conflict-ridden areas but even in cities, we are being branded as part of terrorist fronts. Many of our staff are afraid of such vilification but we continue working,” Fr. Labiao said.

The priest stressed that they are one with the government in the fight against terrorism but he said it is only possible if every sector be part of nation-building.

The filing of the petition also coincided with the 48th anniversary of President Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law.

The groups’ representatives stood in front of the Supreme Court bearing calls for peace and for protecting the local civil society organizations.

“Our partners, member organizations, and even the poor communities we are working with in building their resilience have experienced harassment through malicious tagging,” Yolanda Esguerra of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) said.

She added that with the law’s provisions, it will worsen the attacks against humanitarian and development workers, which is no different during the Martial Law era.

“Once branded as terrorist by the council under ATL, these provisions allow state forces to simply freeze the organizations’ operation and arrest its staff while under investigation,” she added.

The Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines (DRRNetPhils) representative highlighted that local organizations working on disaster risk reduction and management in vulnerable communities must be protected.

“We are ensuring that everyone is part of the development and when there are emergencies, we ensure that everyone receives the appropriate aid they need per Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability,” Dr. Susan Balingit, the Chairperson of Citizen Disaster Response Center (CDRC) said.

She added that every humanitarian organization following the Humanitarian Principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence shall be “violating” Section 12 or providing material support if the communities or sectors who are receiving aid are being labeled as terrorists.

On the other hand, humanitarian workers might fear to fulfil their duties, especially in conflict hotspots, she said.

“Since CDRC was established 35 years ago, we have received threats and harassment and we can only hope every organization is protected and not be put in a more harmful position as what this law’s provisions are doing,” Dr. Balingit said.

For instance, she added that helping displaced lumad communities in Mindanao can be an even more difficult situation.

CDRC is a co-lead convener of DRRNetPhils.

For her part, Sandino Soliman, the lead advocacy officer of the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), stressed that the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals highlight the importance of including all stakeholders.

“It is already disappointing that they failed to consult us in crafting this law, these provisions even placing us in greater peril,” Soliman said.

One of the largest networks in the Philippines, CODE-NGO works with the government especially in the localisation process of the SDG in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) in 2015.

“How can we build a better path to just and lasting peace, to sustainable development, or to assist our communities reduce their risk to natural and human-induced hazards if we are cowering in fear because we are only one hearsay away from getting arrested?” Soliman added.

PMPI and Caritas are one of the biggest national networks of faith-based humanitarian and development organizations in the Philippines.

DRRNetPhils, one of the largest networks of DRR practitioners and organizations in the country, also represents CSO networks in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

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