By CRISTINA PALABAY*
In the first 30 minutes of the hearing on our petition, I felt violated twice over by a court which is mandated to make available a remedy for violations or threats of violations on my life, security and liberty and that of my fellow human rights workers. Not only were there persistent death threats against me and my colleagues, but our human rights workers Ryan Hubilla and Nelly Bagasala were killed barely three days ago. And there we were, expecting a court to look at the cause and effect of red tagging and public pronouncements/exhortations of the President and his men to kill us, yet we found ourselves wondering, in the first 30 minutes of the proceedings – is the court blatantly acting in favor of Duterte et al?
The court ruled that yesterday’s proceedings will be a summary hearing, as in a three-hour hearing, without the benefit of having a preliminary conference like what has been done in the case of National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers vs Duterte et al where they, the aggrieved lawyers, were made to line up their witnesses and evidence and to receive the return of writ (reply) of the respondents. Such was also done in the other amparo hearings, including that of Atty. Catherine Salucon. We were not accorded with the same treatment – we didn’t receive the reply of the respondents, we were not given the chance to submit and present our testimonies. Last I heard, there should be uniformity in proceedings of courts to ensure that due process is observed. Porke ba’t hindi kami abogado, hindi n’yo kami mabigyan ng panyero/panyera treatment? O dahil ba natatakot ang korte at ang respondents na ilantad ng witnesses ang katotohanan? O dahil ba mas gigil ang mga hinahabla namin sa aming mga human rights workers na naglalantad ng mga krimen sa loob at labas ng korte? (Is that because we are not lawyers that’s why we are not given the same treatment? Or is it because the court and the respondents are afraid that the witnesses unravel the truth? Or is it because those we hold to account are angry at human rights workers for exposing their crimes in and out of the courts?)
We were ready. We will were set to submit our judicial affidavits and additional documentary evidence, after what should have been the preliminary conference where hearings should have been scheduled and the evidence admitted. But alas, the court was so hasty, not because they were concerned with the threats against us, that they struck down our counsel’s plea to include our testimonies. In the first 30 minutes of the hearing, the court was acting like the legal counsels of respondents Duterte et al. Will the court be at a disadvantage if we had been given time to submit them? No, but they violated our right to due process anyway.
The court justices parroted the line of questioning and the issues raised by the respondents – issues which we know nothing of because we didn’t receive their reply. Sa totoo lang, pakiramdam namin, hindi man lang binasa ng korte ang petisyon namin. (Truth is, we feel that the court did not even bother to read our petition.) They asked why Duterte was impleaded and why he shouldn’t be accorded immunity. They muddled the issue on how victims of rights violations have sought remedies from the police and the Commission on Human Rights and why were complaints filed at the UN. They muddled the issue on who are the petitioners and are themselves confused (or at least they are acting like it) and did not address the cause and effect of red tagging. They did not even ask clarificatory questions when the respondents’ lawyers alleged, without the benefit of police or an independent investigation, that the killing of Ryan Hubilla and Nelly Bagasala were probably due to purging of the CPP-NPA, as if these are foregone conclusions and as if State agents have nothing to do with it. Sa madaling salita, mas matagal pa ngang dininig ng korte ang pang-aatake sa amin ng respondents. (In other words, the court took more time listening to the respondents’ attacks against us.)
Sa madaling salita, tingin naming petitioners, niluluto ang kaso. (In other words, we, the petitioners, think that the forthcoming decision would be biased against us.) We won’t be surprised if the 14th Division dismiss our petition. While we will fight it out and still avail whatever remedy there is, we are inclined to affirm the view that courts in especially with those appointed by the current President and his allies are severely compromised. We are inclined to believe that even these so-called remedies for victims of human rights violations are discouraging and thus are rendered inutile.
Nevertheless, we are grateful that regardless of the court’s blatant disregard of our rights, we have the support of the people and communities whom we serve. Mas nanggagalaiti pa nga ang mga kaanak ng biktima at mga dating bilanggong pulitikal kahapon. (The relatives of victims and former political prisoners were fuming with anger yesterday.) We remain committed and ever more determined to continue defending and upholding people’s rights within and most especially outside the courts.
* The author is the secretary general of human rights alliance Karapatan. Her group, Gabriela and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines filed the petitions for writ of amparo and writ of habeas data with the Supreme Court.