Philippine anti-terrorism law

Lawyer endured years of vilification long before terror financing case

Rappler.com
Lawyer endured years of vilification long before terror financing case
Lawyer Czarina Golda Musni comes from a prominent family of human rights lawyers in Cagayan de Oro, and was involved in some of the projects of missionaries for rural communities in Mindanao

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The lawyer accused of providing aid to the New People’s Army (NPA) along with 15 nuns and staff of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR) has long been subjected to red-tagging, threats, and a smear campaign.

Her family’s home in Cagayan de Oro was even shot at by a still unidentified person three years ago.

The lawyer, Czarina Golda “Dingkay” Musni, comes from a prominent family of human rights lawyers in Cagayan de Oro, and was involved in some of the projects of the missionaries for rural communities in Mindanao.

Musni’s mother Beverly is a retired arbiter of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) while her father Oscar once served as a provincial board member in Misamis Oriental, and established a law firm in Cagayan de Oro.

Oscar was active in the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), and was a political detainee during the Martial Law years. 

Musni’s sister, Beverly Ann, is also a lawyer and works in a court in Bukidnon. Like the rest of the family, she had been red-tagged numerous times.

In 2019, Musni’s mother led a group in calling on the Cagayan de Oro city council to pass an ordinance against red-tagging in the city as a result of the proliferation of posters and flyers that linked lawyers, priests, nuns, journalists, and activists to the NPA. No such measure was ever passed.

That same year, the family’s house fence was vandalized and posted with red-tagging messages. Their home was shot at by a still unidentified person, also in 2019.

‘False and baseless’ allegations

Early this week, Musni and the RMP-NMR nuns and staff were charged before a Regional Trial Court in Iligan City with violation of Section 8(ii) of the Anti-Terrorism Financing Act, a law which penalizes those found to have helped in providing funds to government-designated terrorists. The case is non-bailable.

The Musnis declined to comment on the case filed in Iligan, citing the sub judice rule.

But the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) decried the filing of the case, calling the accusations “false and baseless.”

Musni serves as NUPL’s national auditor and, at the same time, secretary-general of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), an organization of human rights lawyers founded by the late prominent Cagayan de Oro lawyer Frederico Gapuz.

The UPLM had jointly implemented projects for rural communities that required Musni’s signature in some documents.

“Their work has greatly strengthened the fight against unjust treatment of the IPs (indigenous people) in Mindanao. Prior to this incident, the young and fearless Dingkay has been subjected to constant threats and harassments offline and online and vilified and demonized as ‘terrorist’ in anonymous publications and posters hoping to stop her from defending against state repression and oppression,” read part of the NUPL statement released on Wednesday, August 17.

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Lawyer Josalee Deinla, NUPL secretary-general, said the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) “recklessly charged” Musni, the nuns, and RMP staff.

She said the DOJ relied on the narratives of alleged former rebels who gave “false and baseless” statements.

Deinla told Rappler, “Their statements are unverified. They cannot be believed.”

She also said the AMLC forced the issue and insisted that RPM-NMR funds were used for terrorist acts even when these were audited, and the disbursements were found regular by its donors that included the European Union and United Nations.

“There was already a prior finding on the nature of bank accounts. The disbursements of the deposits were audited and found regular,” Deinla told Rappler. 

The NUPL said the case was another display of the penchant of those in government to weaponize laws against the very lawyers fighting such “insidious policy and practice.”

“The baseless charge of terrorist financing against these people is one of the many attempts to weaken the support for the advancement of the peoples’ rights in Northern Mindanao,” Deinla said. 

The NUPL said Musni and the RMP nuns and staff were known to have been consistent in fighting for the rights of the marginalized and the oppressed, particularly indigenous people, and carried out various programs and projects for them. – Rappler.com

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