“The audacity in yakking against us to our extreme prejudice outside the courtroom could not be matched by any modicum of fortitude by at least showing up in court.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Military officials are once a again a no-show at the hearing, Thursday July 11 at the Court of Appeals Special 15th Division, on the writ of amparo petition filed by the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).
Instead of personally attending the hearing, Assistant Solicitor-General Angelita V. Miranda told the court that the respondents have sent their representatives. They also waived the appearance of the respondents in the entire hearing process of the case.
Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) also did not cross-examine Clarissa Ramos, wife of the slain lawyer Benjamin, a member of the NUPL, who was supposed to testify on the witness stand. The OSG objected to her admissibility as a witness as they alleged that she is not an expert.
The respondents in the writ of amparo and habeas data filed by the NUPL are: President Rodrigo Duterte in his capacity as commander-in-chief, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP Chief of Staff Benjamin Madrigal, Jr., AFP Deputy Commander for Intelligence Brigadier General Fernando Trinidad, AFP Intelligence Service Chief Major General Erwin Bernard Neri, Army Commanding General Lieutenant General Macairog Alberto and AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations Major General Antonio G. Parlade, Jr.
“The audacity in yakking against us to our extreme prejudice outside the courtroom could not be matched by any modicum of fortitude by at least showing up in court. This betrays how cavalier and reckless the still continuing smear attacks against us are,” said NUPL President Edre Olalia.
‘Avoiding to put on record’
Assistant Solicitor General Marlon Bosantog said Ramos’ testimony is irrelevant and immaterial as far as the case is concerned. He said there is “nothing in her judicial affidavit that state particular unlawful act attributed to the respondents.”
In response Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), the lead counsel for the petitioners said that Ramos is going to state the circumstances that led to the killing of her husband on Nov. 6, 2018, in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental.
“The witness will describe the pattern of surveillance, harassments and threats that was committed against her husband, Atty. Ben Ramos before he was murdered. This is to show the experiences of her husband (and other NUPL officers) that led to his killing,” Pastores said during the hearing.
Justices eventually overruled the OSG’s objection. However, the OSG did not proceed to the cross-examination.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Pastores said Ramos was not presented as an expert witness. She added that the OSG did not cross-examine Ramos simply to avoid that her testimony be put on record.
“They are saying that they are objecting but they just don’t want her testimony to be put on record. Because how can they dispute it?” Pastores told Bulatlat.
‘Deliberate and systematic harassment’
Ramos said she was surprised and disappointed that she was not cross-examined by the OSG.
“It’s unfortunate. They should have heard my side of the story because I saw and knew how deliberately and systematically they harassed Ben until he was killed,” she told Bulatlat in a separate interview.
Ben is the first NUPL lawyer killed under the Duterte administration.
Ramos only affirmed the contents of her judicial affidavit on the witness stand. “At least they accepted my judicial affidavit, they are accepting that there is truth to what I am saying,” she said.
Ramos said since 2017 to 2018, the military through their radio program often mentioned Ben as a lawyer and accused him of being a recruiter of the New People’s Army. In April 2018, there was a poster posted in places in Negros as well as the police station where Ben and other human rights defenders were tagged as CNN personalities. CNN is referred by the military as Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP).
She said Civil Military Operation (CMO) units were also deployed in the communities they assist, asking about Ben’s activities and the cases that he handles. “They are telling the leaders (of the communities) not to link with PDG or even NUPL ‘because they are sympathizers and instruments of the NPA’,” said Ramos. PDG or Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group is a non-government organization assisting peasants in the province. Ben was also the executive director of the said organization.
Also in September 2018, 62nd Infantry Battalion during the internal security operation orientation in different communities tagged NUPL with Ben’s picture as secretary general as a terrorist organization.
Military agents also tailed Ben in every activity where he is present and took his picture. It was also during this time that Ben was busy on the case of Mabinay 6.
“They are really targeting the NUPL. In Negros, Ben, as NUPL lawyer handled many cases and he was really seen as a threat by the military,” said Ramos.
Attack as an NUPL member
Meanwhile, another witness during the hearing was lawyer Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon, NUPL’s vice president for Luzon.
OSG also tried to object to Salucon as a witness as she was granted a writ of amparo by the CA on March 12, 2015.
Salucon said that she filed the petition this time in her capacity as a member and officer of the NUPL. She pointed out that the subject of the present petition is the vilification and attack on the NUPL that the military alleged as front organization of the CPP-NPA.
She said this time, she was being referred to as NUPL spokesperson, which is totally different in her first petition.
In the cross-examination Bosantog then asked if she is being attacked as a member of the NUPL to which she replied yes.
Bosantog also asked Salucon to identify the unlawful acts attributed to the respondents. Salucon mentioned several instances which are also stated in their petition, where lawyers particularly the members of the NUPL were subjected to red-tagging and surveillance by the state forces.
“A number are tailed, some receive threatening text messages, some are publicly vilified in radio programs and still a few were even included in a shotgun petition to declare the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations, maliciously labeling them as members of these rebel organizations,” she said citing a portion of the petition.
Bosantog also asked Salucon to identify unlawful orders given by the respondents to any subordinate to which Salucon said is the all-out war policy of the Duterte administration.
The NUPL filed the petition for writs of amparo and habeas data with the Supreme Court on April 15 due to heightened attacks against human rights lawyers. The SC granted the writ of amparo, a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security has been violated or under threat.
Pastores said that red-tagging of the NUPL lawyers should stop as it endangers their lives. “Only few practicing lawyers are handling human rights cases. And this is what is happening to them, let them practice their chosen profession,” she said speaking to the media after the hearing.