Rights groups: Mandatory NGO registration in Kalinga violates freedom of association

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Rights groups: Mandatory NGO registration in Kalinga violates freedom of association
In this 2020 file photo, activists troop to University of the Philippines Diliman to protest passage of the Ant-Terrorism Act.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Christopher Toledo

MANILA, Philippines — Rights groups have sounded the alarm over a new policy requiring non-government organizations to register with the provincial government of Kalinga—a policy introduced by the provincial government's anti-communist task force over alleged "suspicious conduct of consultations" by NGOs in barangays.

Human rights groups Karapatan and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance said in separate statements that the recent resolution by the Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) of Kalinga province requiring NGOs to register with the capitol before conducting any activity violates freedom of association.

Aside from the advisory, the groups also condemned the PTF-ELCAC’s publication of a list of supposed “sectoral front organizations” of communist rebels. The list includes 18 legitimate NGOs in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

The list was issued by the Army's 50th Infantry Battalion, the rights groups said.

Violation of basic rights, international laws

The advisory from the PTF-ELCAC “undermines the fundamental principles of freedom of association and is violative of international laws and human rights norms,” Karapatan said.

“The right to freely associate is crucial for people’s organizations and civil society organizations to carry out their essential work in promoting social justice, human rights and sustainable development,” Karapatan said.

The rights group also pointed out that freedom of association is “a fundamental human right” protected by the Constitution under the Bill of Rights, and the involvement of non-government organizations in community and development work “play a vital role in facilitating grassroots participation.” 

“Restricting their activities through mandatory permissions and endangering their members through red-tagging undermine their ability to fulfill their missions and are deleterious to the people's interests,” the group said.

Karapatan added that the red-tagged organizations — which includes Karapatan’s Cordillera chapter, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, the multi-sectoral Cordillera Peoples Alliance and the LGBTQ rights organization Bahaghari — have been “instrumental in promoting and protecting human rights, especially those of the indigenous Cordillerans.”

“By red-tagging these organizations, the PTF-ELCAC not only endangers them, rendering them even more vulnerable to threats, harassment and intimidation, they deprive so many underserved communities of the services they provide,” the group added.

CHRA said that the military’s list of alleged groups tied to the Communist Party of the Philippines is “baseless and dangerous.” The group's warning echoes those of the Commission on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Office.

“Our organizations have violated no legislation and have always conducted activities and projects within legal bounds. Even without the resolution, our organizations have always made sure to let local governments and communities know of our activities beforehand through securing permits or courtesy calls,” it added.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), an anti-insurgency task force established during the Duterte administration, is widely regarded as the main entity responsible for targeting government critics and human rights defenders through red-tagging.

Government officials and those who support the NTF-ELCAC leverage red-tagging and other intimidation tactics to categorize human rights defenders, labor unions, religious organizations, academics, and media entities as either covert members or fronts for insurgent groups and other opposition movements.

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