Rights network condemns SEC memorandum on NPOs/NGOs

The Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) condemns the memorandum circular issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), saying that it greatly impedes the operations of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) working to serve the poor and marginalized sectors.

The SEC Memorandum Circular No. 15 supposedly serves as a guideline for the protection of SEC registered non-profit organizations (NPOs) from money laundering and financial abuses of terrorists.

However, according to ASCENT’s spokesperson, Bishop Dindo Ranojo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), “if we look at it superficially, the said memorandum seems like a harmless set of guidelines to seemingly protect NPOs from money-laundering and financial abuses of terrorists. But, taking the circumstances of the worsening human rights situation to mind, including the increasingly hazardous situation of development workers, especially with the illegal arrest of our consultant Ben Quilloy and Rita Espinoza, and the climate of impunity in the Philippines, SEC Memo No. 15 must be condemned.”

He added that the most recent set of guidelines by SEC violates non-government organizations’ rights to organize and form groups with common interests and pursuits, particularly on their freedom or capacity to administer or carry out their advocacy without restriction, as well as the right to privacy of their officers, members, clients, or beneficiaries of any NPOs.

“This new memorandum is in some way a continuation of the mounting restraining tactics put into action by the Duterte administration in installment, so as not to be disloyal to its real intent of repressing all platforms for dissent,” he said.

He also said that under the SEC Guidelines, the Commission is given unrestrained judgment to decide and label those whom it considers NPOs at risk.

“No clear limit have been established, other than a really whimsical categorization of NPOs as low risk, medium risk, high risk, or blacklisted. Determination of which NPO will be classified as such also rests on information supplied by government agencies such as the Philippine National Police. This contributes to NGOs being at risk, specifically those openly red-tagged by the PNP and the Duterte administration as so-called legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP),” said Ranojo.

He also articulated concerns that through Memo No. 15, the SEC and administration authorities are given virtually unrestrained ability to force NPOs to reveal many information, without a court arrangement, including the place of residence of beneficiaries or projects, extent of work or activity, identities and places of residence of persons or entities who supply financial support for the NPO or are its intended beneficiaries.

“According to the guidelines, such facts will be shared and made ready for use to administration organizations such as the PNP and National Bureau of Investigation,” he said.

SEC, through SEC Memorandum Circular No. 15, may have exceeded its capacity and ability as the recorder and overseer of the Philippine corporate sector, by needing many and unnecessary facts on the NPOs not provided for in existing laws, almost intervening and ruling the NPOs capacity and activities, to the disadvantage of the NPOs and the people or the clients they serve,” he said.

He said that the SEC will be used for profiling, intelligence-gathering, close observation, badgering and additional possible grave breach against NGOs as the memorandum gives power to SEC to enlist the aid, support and/or deputize one and all enforcement organizations of the administration, civil or military, for the intention of administering thorough checks and facts gathering.

“Memo No. 15 will adversely influence the capacity and exercise of aid of many service-oriented NPOs who may be summarily filed as low, medium, high risk or blacklisted. Many sectors and communities could be deprived of the valuable aid the NPOs supply and put such clients or beneficiaries at risk of badgering given the poor track record in supporting human rights by the state agents,” he said.

He said such regulations will unavoidably obstruct the work of development workers and other non-profit/non-government organizations and without doubt will result in the additional blockage of civic space in the Philippines.

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AscentPH is a national alliance of development organizations determinedly working for the empowerment of the people through poverty alleviation and promoting and defending the right to development and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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