23 Cebu development workers post bail in terrorism financing case

John Sitchon

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23 Cebu development workers post bail in terrorism financing case

STOP ATTACKS. Human rights advocates, labor leaders, and development workers from ADI, CERNET, NUPL Cebu, and Bayan Central Visayas speak to the media during a press conference in Cebu City on May 17, 2024.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

As of May 17, members and the legal counsel of the Community Empowerment Resource Network have yet to receive a copy of a Department of Justice resolution accusing the NGO of terrorism financing

CEBU, Philippines – Twenty-three development workers and activists here have posted bail worth P200,000 each in connection with terrorism financing charges filed against them by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Based on a press release from the 302nd Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, the DOJ filed the case against both former and incumbent members of the Cebu-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Community Empowerment Resource Network (CERNET) on May 10.

The DOJ accused 27 individuals associated with CERNET of violating Section 8 (ii) in relation to Section 9 of the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.

Lawyer Mel Ebo, the legal counsel of CERNET, said in a press conference on Friday, May 17, that they were shocked to find out that an information had already been filed with a court before they were given a copy of the DOJ’s resolution on the preliminary investigation of the case.

The justice department typically furnishes respondents a copy of its resolution before filing an information with a court.

In August 2023, the DOJ issued a subpoena to CERNET in relation to the Army’s accusations against the NGO of financing terrorist activities.

The development workers attended and submitted counter-affidavits during the preliminary investigation held in Cebu on September 28, 2023.

“The DOJ and the complainants made a very sloppy investigation in this case because other than the individual respondents that are included in the complaint, they also included some respondents who have passed on already,” Ebo said.

According to the lawyer, one of the respondents, labor rights advocate Jaime Paglinawan, is not even a member of CERNET.

He said out of the 27 respondents, only 23 were confirmed to have posted bail. One respondent’s condition is still unknown, while three respondents have already passed away.

On Tuesday, May 14, the Regional Trial Court Branch 74 in Cebu City issued arrest warrants against the 27 accused individuals.

Ebo said that as of Thursday, May 16, a majority of the respondents whose names he did not disclose for security reasons had already paid the bail amount of P200,000 each. 

“Considering that at the prosecution level, we have presented numerous documents that will show that CERNET has no involvement in any of this, we are studying the possibility of filing counter-suits,” the lawyer said.

Silencing NGOs

CERNET staff Macy Crecencio said during the press conference that the charges have halted the organization’s services. 

Since its founding in 2001, the NGO had provided legal assistance and livelihood programs to marginalized sectors, especially farming and fishing communities, in the Visayas.

“It’s a huge misfortune to our partner organizations who have lost support. Mind you, these communities already have little to no access to social services,” Crecencio said.

According to the development worker, the organization has faced multiple red-tagging threats and attacks against its members in the past, including the abduction of CERNET staff Dyan Gumanao and partner Armand Dayoha.

Ebo described the charges as a “witch hunt,” citing criminal cases filed against organizations like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.

“Since CERNET has been charged, the Eastern Visayas-based Leyte Center for Development (LCDe) and the Negros-based Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group Inc. have also been targeted, with the bank accounts of LCDe and its staff frozen,” a statement from human rights group Karapatan read. –

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