For kin and advocates, justice remains elusive for children’s rights defender Sally Ujano

Photo by Free Sally Ujano

By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — “I will be strong for all of you,” these are the words of long-time women and children’s rights defender Ma. Salome “Sally” Ujano when the court convicted her for the alleged crime of rebellion.

Hon. Judge Marivic Cudilla Vitor of Regional Trial Court Taguig City Branch 266 sentenced Ujano to 10 to 17 years and 14 months imprisonment, with no chance for bail.

She was implicated in a supposed ambush of two soldiers in Quezon province sometime in 2005.

Ujano has been visible in the media for her advocacy work. In fact, the date of the alleged crime coincided with the time when she was the executive director of the Women’s Crisis Center from 2000 to 2007. She was spearheading programs on feminist crisis, counseling, training, and education, among many other initiatives for the women’s movement.

Read: ‘Arrested development worker is a loving mother, persevering advocate’

She is currently confined at the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) in Taguig City, encouraging everyone to continue their prayers and support for justice.

“All of us are shocked about this. We hope that I will be free from all the charges. Please continue to support my family, partner, and friends,” said Ujano in a video statement.

Since 2021, Bulatlat has been following the development of Ujano’s case. In 2022, the family called for the Philippine government to revisit her state of health, which has deteriorated due to poor conditions inside the Philippine prisons.

Ujano’s doctor found several health conditions affecting the detained development worker, such as hypertension, hypertensive heart disease, dyslipidemia, chronic back pain because of thoracolumbar spondylosis, cholelithiasis, osteoarthritis, seborrheic keratosis.

Read:  A year since her arrest, calls to free detained dev’t worker Sally Ujano continue

Just last year, the United Nations (UN) Women – Philippines also recognized the contribution of Ujano in championing human rights. She received a distinction as a Feminist Champion against Gender-Based Violence, along with other long-time women’s rights defenders Aida Santos, former executive director of Women’s Educational, Development, Productivity, & Research Org (WeDpro) and Princess Nemenzo, former executive director of WomanHealth.

Sally Ujano as a recognized human rights defender | Photo by UN Women

Members of the international rights group Child Rights Coalition in Asia (CRCA) are deeply saddened by the court verdict, calling for Ujano’s immediate release.

They recognized the work of Ujano in the women’s and children’s rights movement. They emphasized that since 2008, she has been working as the national coordinator of Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT), a member-organization of the Civil Society Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC Coalition), a member network of CRCA.

“Sally is a staunch and respected human rights defender. Sally is not an enemy of the State. She is a partner in protecting the rights of women and children. We demand that the State do its job to protect not only women and children but also those who protect and defend women and children,” CRCA said in a statement, signed by more than 50 representatives from various organizations.

Meanwhile, Free Sally Ujano continues to assert that the fight for justice is far from over. According to her family, they will file an appeal to call for Ujano’s freedom.

“We are deeply saddened by today’s promulgation results, but our resolve remains strong. We will continue to pray for justice for Sally and appreciate your ongoing support through prayers and messages,” they said in a post.

The solidarity of other organizations also highlights that the conviction of Ujano serves as a “grave affront to the protection of Filipino children’s rights,” according to the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns.

“This unjust verdict sends a chilling effect across the community of child rights advocates, perpetuating an atmosphere of fear and silence that endangers the very efforts to safeguard the welfare of Filipino children. Furthermore, it adds insult to the injury of the very victims of child trafficking, whom she has tirelessly worked to protect and support,” they said.

They also highlighted how the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on May 8, declaring red-tagging as a threat to people’s life, liberty, and security, is in contrast with the decision of the RTC.

“Salinlahi demands the Taguig trial court to immediately overturn this unjust verdict and dismiss all baseless charges against Ujano. Additionally, we call on President Ferdinand Marcos to respect human rights in the Philippines, ensuring that advocates for vulnerable populations can work without fear of persecution,” Salinlahi ended. (RTS, RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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