DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Human rights group Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, and GABRIELA also filed a petition for a writ of Amparo and habeas data before the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday, May 6, citing “threats to life, liberty, and security” amid accusations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that their organizations are communist fronts.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which was recently granted by the SC the same petition for the protection of its members against red-tagging provided assistance to the groups during the filing of the petition.
The respondents of the recent petition filed by progressive organizations include President Rodrigo Duterte, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., AFP Civil-Military Operations Chief General Antonio Parlade Jr., Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, and other military and government officials.
The groups also asked the SC to order the respondents to disclose all the information on the petitioners gathered and have them destroyed.
“Our filing of the petition for the writs of Amparo and habeas data is a response to the worsening attacks, terrorist-tagging by the Philippine military and the ongoing smear campaign against human rights defenders,” Karapatan National Chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi said.
She added that, “Human rights advocacy is not a crime, yet human rights workers are being killed, threatened, harassed, and jailed on trumped-up charges. We have never taken all these attacks sitting down, as we continue to work to confront this perilous political climate with all available remedies.”
Karapatan stressed that the “dangerous” rhetoric of the military, President Duterte, and other officials in the government labeling the organization as CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army) front has “resulted to glaringly numerous killings and other human rights violations against its human rights workers.”
The group cited the killing of Karapatan Southern Mindanao Deputy Secretary-General Benjaline Hernandez in April 2002, Karapatan Southern Tagalog Secretary-General Eden Marcellana in April 2003, Karapatan Negros Oriental coordinator Elisa Badayos, killed while leading a fact-finding mission in November 2017,
Other cases cited by the group include the killing of Marian Uy Acob of Kawagib rights in October 2018 after she received threats from the military. Escalante City Councilor Bernardino “Toto” Patigas from Negros Occidental, a long-time human rights advocate and survivor of Escalante massacre was gunned down by unknown assailants after branded as CPP-NPA sympathizer.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay and Clarizza Singson of Karapatan Negros also reported having received death threats through text messages after Patigas was killed.
“From 2001 to 2019, at least 48 human rights defenders of Karapatan have been killed by State forces. Most, if not all, of our human rights workers, even our former colleagues, are subjected to threats, surveillance, harassment, red-tagging, and judicial harassment. We have been publicly vilified even in online spaces, and we frequently receive death threats through text messages,” said Palabay.
The petition also cited incidents where President Duterte repeatedly tagged Karapatan as a “communist front” in at least six public speeches.
Karapatan said that despite some United Nation Special Rapporteurs already calling out the attention of the President due to its vilifying statements, government officials continued to attack the organization, including the diplomatic missions of members of the national task force (NTF) to end local communist and armed conflict in the European Union accusing Karapatan and organizations like Ibon Foundation, RMP and Lumad schools in Mindanao as CPP-NPA “fronts”.
“We are appealing to the Supreme Court to see the merit of our petition, the dangers of our work, and eventually decide in favor of human rights defenders who have courageously stood alongside marginalized sectors in the country. We call on the Supreme Court to recognize that our work and activism involves the full exercise of our civil and political rights and is in no way tantamount to a crime,” Palabay said.
In a separate statement, GABRIELA said that the group for long has been a target of vilification by the government because of their people-oriented advocacies.
“Our leaders and members have been victims of harassment, killings, and enforced disappearances because the state is afraid of us, being one of the most vocal critics. This is not the first time we have experienced red-tagging but this is one of the worse and bloody anti-people campaign of the state,” said Joms Salvador, GABRIELA secretary general.
Salvador said they filed the petition for writ of Amparo and writ of habeas data to “protect the right to privacy and to protect the members and allies of the organization against state-orchestrated harassments by filing trumped-up cases against them.”
“The government’s whole-of-nation approach has targeted legitimate people’s organizations in its doomed-to-fail attempt to curb the ever-growing armed struggle in the countryside. We have time and again explained that we are not a terrorist group and do not fund such groups. Our long-time partners from the international community such as Viva Salud have stood with us in proving our legitimacy and innocence from AFP’s baseless accusations,” Salvador explained.
On May 3, the SC issued a writ of Amparo and habeas data in favor of NUPL.
The Court has referred the petition to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals (CA) directed for the immediate raffle of the case.
The CA was further directed to hear the petition on May 14, 2019, and to decide the case within 10 days after submission of the case for decision, according to NUPL.
The Court also ordered respondents including President Duterte, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Security Adviser (Ret.) Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., among others “to make a verified return” of the writ of Amparo and habeas data on or before May 8, 2019, and comment on NUPL’s petition. (davaotoday.com)