“The perjury case brought by the government may also be a form of retaliation for the human rights activities of these local human rights defenders. We have seen in recent years that many defenders have been dragged before the courts, smeared, red tagged and murdered in the Philippines. This intimidation should stop immediately.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Different international organizations expressed their support to human rights group Karapatan officials who are facing perjury cases filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor urged the Philippine authorities to stop targeting human rights defenders, and instead promote and protect their work.
“We know that harassment and threats can be precursors to physical attacks, as they make defenders more vulnerable and isolated. These attacks should stop immediately,” Lawlor said in a statement, citing the cases of killings human rights defenders Ryan Hubilla and Zara Alvarez.
I’m hearing more worrying news about Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines being targeted.
My statement here:https://t.co/lcn8I2bcU0@TheManilaTimes @rapplerdotcom @TinayPalabay @karapatan @manilabulletin pic.twitter.com/kl0dLhPdPQ
— Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur HRDs (@MaryLawlorhrds) June 18, 2022
“The perjury case brought by the government may also be a form of retaliation for the human rights activities of these local human rights defenders. We have seen in recent years that many defenders have been dragged before the courts, smeared, red tagged and murdered in the Philippines. This intimidation should stop immediately,” said Lawlor.
Read: How the legal system is used to attack political dissenters
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) also called on “Philippine authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop the malicious and retaliatory charges” of perjury filed by Esperon against Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and progressive women’s group Gabriela.
The group also called on the authorities “to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in the Philippines can carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.”
It was on July 2, 2019 when Esperon filed perjury against 10 human rights defenders. It stemmed from Karapatan, Gabriela and RMP’s seeking of legal protection as they filed for the writ of amparo and habeas data before the Supreme Court. Esperon is among the respondents in the said petition.
The SC granted but the Court of Appeals dismissed the petitions.
Read: Rights groups seek protection from high court amid heightening attacks
Read: SC issues protection order for rights defenders
Read: CA junks rights defenders’ plea for protection
In January 2020, a Quezon City prosecutor dismissed the complaint against eight of them. Esperon, however, filed for a motion for reconsideration. According to Karapatan, this was acted upon by the senior city prosecutor resulting in the issuance of arrest warrants against Palabay and seven others cited as respondents in the case. Palabay was in Switzerland then, participating in the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions. The six others filed for bail.
Palabay filed bail upon returning to Manila. However, she was still served with an arrest warrant by police personnel who posed as couriers of a private delivery service company.
Read: Right defender frustrates arrest
The hearing on the case is ongoing.
‘Drop the charges’
Asia Pacific Women, Law and Development (APWLD) also denounced what they described as vague perjury charges filed against the groups. They said that the “charges are clearly intended to harass and persecute women human rights defenders and political activists in the Philippines.”
The group added that this case, unlawful arrests and all forms of persecution are direct violation of the rights and protection of human rights defenders and the work that they do.
They reiterated that the Philippine government is a party to international obligations such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which “calls upon all States to promote, translate and give full effect to the Declaration, including by taking appropriate, robust and practical steps to protect women human rights defenders.”
Rocio Albertos, Asia and Middle East Partnership officer of Action Solidarité Tiers Monde (ASTM) meanwhile said that judicial and administrative harassment is one of the main threats faced by civil society today.
“Unfortunately, this is a trend and a reality in most countries of the world. Being a human rights defender has become a dangerous job and for our organization this is intolerable,” Albertos said.
Belgian non-government organization Viva Salud also expressed solidarity with the groups. “Amid the hostile political climate, they have persistently and courageously defended human rights and tireless worked for the realization of the social and economic rights of the people, especially the marginalized,” the group said in a statement.