“They think that because they threaten us, we would be silenced.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Barely two weeks after the Supreme Court granted the petitions for writ of amparo and writ of habeas data filed by activists, another round of harassment ensued.
On Aug. 17, Raquel Toquero, a staff member of Courage, a national federation of government employees’ unions, discovered a fake Facebook account in her name. It has the same cover photo and the same profile picture of her genuine Facebook account. The status posts, however, are different.
Some of her colleagues also found themselves in the same predicament.
Toquero believes state agents were behind it. “They are so desperate,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
A week after, on Aug. 25 at around 4 p.m., a man came to their house in Cavite. Her father-in-law, United Methodist Church Bishop Solito Toquero was there.
The good bishop accommodated the man who introduced himself as a member of the Quezon City police. “The man told my father-in-law that he was investigating the case but he did not present any ID and he was not wearing a uniform,” Toquero said.
The man asked questions about Toquero’s activities. He also had a picture taken with Bishop Toquero.
On Sept. 16, at around 2 p.m., four men who introduced themselves as policemen went to the house of Roman Sanchez, president of the National Food Authority Employees Union, in Los Banos, Laguna.
The men in plainclothes talked to Sanchez’s wife. With them was a woman with a bulging belly.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Ferdinand Gaite, Courage president, said state agents are now threatening family members of their colleagues. “They knew Roman was not there. And why the woman with a bulging belly? Are they resorting to sowing intrigue?” Gaite said.
Both Toquero and Sanchez were among the 22 activists who sought protection from the Supreme Court. The high court issued a writ of amparo and writ of habeas data on Aug. 4.
The writ of amparo is a remedy “available to any person whose right to life, liberty or security” is violated or “threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission by a public official or employee or of a private individual or entity.” Meanwhile, the writ of habeas data is a remedy “available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party.”
The 22 activists, mostly from Courage, were visited by men in plainclothes in their offices or houses in separate incidents. They were told to “stop what they are doing.”
Toquero’s visitors first came in June 28, a Sunday morning. She, her husband and their children were about to leave the house to attend a prayer service. The two men introduced themselves as soldiers. “They told me, ‘We know you. We can help you if you stop what you are doing. Call us anytime.’”
When Toquero asked questions, the men kept mum.
The high court ordered the respondents – officials of military and police – to file their answer and comment on the petition.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Ephraim Cortez, lawyer of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) denied their men were involved in these cases of surveillance and harassment.
“The police and military said they would conduct their own investigations. Our clients, meanwhile, are subjected to the same form of harassment,” Cortez said.
The high court also referred the petition to the Court of Appeals, which will conduct hearings and decide the case. The case has been raffled off to the appellate court’s Fourth Division. Cortez said the “burden of proof is with the respondents.”
Gaite said they have also filed complaints with the Commission on Human Rights and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
As of this writing, the activists had met with CHR officials twice. The Commission promised to do its own investigation. “At the very least, we were hoping for a statement of condemnation from the CHR but we have not heard from the Commission until now,” Gaite said.
The ILO office, meanwhile, referred their complaint to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Gaite said the department’s Bureau of Labor Relations, in a dialogue with Courage officials, also promised to conduct an investigation and issue recommendations.
An employee of DOLE, Elvira Prudencio, is also among the victims of harassment, Gaite said. Prudencion was also “visited” by three men at the DOLE office in Manila.
Gaite said the filing of legal cases is but one aspect of the fight against political repression.
Another batch of activists also filed a writ of amparo and writ of habeas data, which the SC also granted on Sept. 8. The eleven activists from different sectors were also subjected to surveillance and harassment.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, said the Supreme Court decisions proved that the cases have merit.
“Politically, these will challenge the military and the police to answer all the allegations. Mere denial would not suffice in court,” Palabay said.