Makabayan Bloc moves to scrutinize SEC memorandum on NPOs/NGOs

Published January 17, 2019, 7:00 PM

by Dhel Nazario, Jeffrey G. Damicog, and Rey G. Panaligan

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

The seven-man Makabayan bloc is asking the Lower Chamber to review and study the memorandum circular issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), saying that it would only provide justification for a new form of witch-hunt among human rights defenders, development workers, social workers, and volunteers.

Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate led the filing of House Resolution 2420 urging the House Committee on People Participation to exercise its oversight functions to take a second look at the SEC Memorandum Circular No. 15 (s. 2018)

Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna Party list Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN)
Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna Party list Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN)

Issued on November 7, 2018, the MC No. 15 supposedly serves the guidelines for the protection of SEC registered non-profit organizations (NPOs) from money laundering and terrorist financing abuse.

“At first glance, the said memorandum seems like an innocuous set of guidelines to supposedly “protect non-profit organizations from money laundering and terrorist financing abuse.” However, considering the context of the worsening human rights situation, including the increasingly dangerous situation of human rights defenders, and the climate of impunity in the Philippines, SEC Memorandum Circular No. 15 merits deeper scrutiny,” Zarate said.

He said the latest set of guidelines by SEC infringes on non-governmental organizations’ rights to organize and form associations, specifically on their freedom or capacity to freely conduct or perform their advocacies, as well as the right to privacy of the officers, members, clients or beneficiaries of any of those considered as non-profit organizations.

“This new memorandum is possibly an extension of the mounting repressive policies implemented by the Duterte government in installments, so as not to betray its real intent of curbing all platforms for dissent,” he said.

In filing HR 2420, the Makabayan lawmakers said under the SEC Guidelines, the Commission is given unchecked discretion to determine and identify those whom it considers “NPOs at Risk.”

“No clear parameters have been stated, other than a very arbitrary classification of NPOs as “low risk,” “medium risk,” “high risk,” or “blacklisted.” Determination of which NPO will be classified as such also rests on information provided by government agencies such as the Philippine National Police. This renders progressive organizations at risk, particularly those openly red-tagged by the PNP and the Duterte government as “legal fronts”,” they said.

They expressed concern that through SEC Memorandum Circular No. 15, the SEC and government authorities are given virtually unbridled power to compel disclosure of numerous information on non-government organizations, without a court order, including information on the location of beneficiaries or projects, areas of operation or activity, identities and locations of persons or entities who provide financial support for the NPO or are its intended beneficiaries.

According to the guidelines, such information will be shared and made accessible to government agencies such as the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation, they said.

“SEC, through SEC Memorandum Circular No. 15, may have overstepped its functions and powers as the registrar and overseer of the Philippine corporate sector, by requiring numerous and unnecessary information on the NPOs not provided for in existing laws, practically intervening and controlling the NPOs’ functions and activities, to the detriment of the NPOs and the people or clients they serve,” the Makabayan bloc said.

The group said the SEC will be used for profiling, intelligence-gathering, surveillance, harassment and other possible grave violations against NGOs as the memorandum authorizes SEC to enlist the aid, support and/or deputize any and all enforcement agencies of the government, civil or military, for the purpose of conducting investigations and information gathering.

“SEC Memorandum Circular No. 15 will negatively affect the functions and implementation of services of many service-oriented NPOs who may be arbitrarily listed as low, medium, high risk or blacklisted. Many sectors and communities could be deprived of the important services the NPOs provide and put such clients or beneficiaries at risk of harassment given the poor track record in upholding human right by the state agents,” they said.

They said such regulations will inevitably impede the work of human rights defenders, aid and development workers and other non-profit/non-government organizations and will surely result in the further constriction of civic space in the Philippines.

Joining Zarate in filing the resolution are ACT Teachers Reps. Antonio Tinio and France Castro, Gabriela Reps. Emmi de Jesus, and Arlene Brosas, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Jane Elago. (Charissa M. Luci-Atienza)###