“We maintain that our petition is urgent amid the spate of intensified red-tagging, illegal arrests, and killings perpetrated against us by this government.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – With the escalating cases of extrajudicial killings against activists, human rights groups have called on the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision junking their petitions for the writ of amparo and habeas data.
Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and Gabriela filed a petition for review, Monday, July 29.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay challenged the SC “to prove that it is not an instrument of impunity and injustice, and that it can choose to heed the need of human rights defenders for protection.”
“We maintain that our petition is urgent amid the spate of intensified red-tagging, illegal arrests, and killings perpetrated against us by this government,” Palabay said in a statement.
‘CA decision is tantamount to complicity’
Palabay said the CA’s dismissal of their petition is tantamount to complicity on attacks against the groups.
The groups filed their petition for writs of amparo and habeas corpus at the SC on May 6. The CA’s 14th Division, upon the instruction of the high court, conducted a three-hour summary hearing on June 18 but CA justices did not allow the presentation of witnesses’ testimonial evidence and other documents to prove the allegations stated in their petition.
On June 28, ten days after the summary hearing, the CA dismissed the petition.
“It is a decision that will worsen the impunity in the country and will further enable state forces to continue terrorizing communities and individuals critical of the government. The court justices’ refusal to hear our testimonies was truly disappointing,” said Palabay.
“This was not an impartial procedure determined to hear the aggrieved party, but a ruling that favored the perpetrators and masterminds behind the policies that haveb led to the crackdown on human rights defenders,” she said.
The CA said in its decision that the petition “did not conform to the requirements of the rules of writs of amparo and habeas data.”
‘Duterte contributed to threats, harassments’
In its petition for review, Karapatan argued that President Duterte himself has “explicitly contributed to the threats and harassment being initiated against rights defenders.”
Karapatan said that since October 2017, Duterte has vilified and red-tagged these organizations at least six times in public and official speeches as well as conferences.
Duterte publicly tagged the groups as “legal front” organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP). Palabay said with this, Duterte declared an “open season” against their members and officers.
“This is akin to explicitly identifying us as targets, thus making human rights work even more dangerous in the country,” Palabay said, adding that during the entire amparo petition process, five human rights workers were killed in Bicol.
Ryan Hubilla, 22, and Nelly Bagasala, 69 both Karapatan-Sorsogon staff members were gunned down by unknown gunmen on June 15, after facilitating the release of a political prisoner in the region. Arnie Espenilla, Zando Alcovendas, and Pizo Cabug, peasant human rights workers of the Masbate People’s Organization were killed on separate occasions from June 9 to June 14 by soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Battalion.
Amid the intensifying attacks against human rights workers, different church groups expressed their support to the organizations.
The Council of Bishops of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, led by its General Secretary Bishop Melzar Labuntog and composed of 27 bishops, and the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (Ecuvoice) led by Rev. Rex B. Reyes, Jr., D.D. conveyed support for human rights defenders of Karapatan, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela.
The Council of Bishops of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (COB-UCCP) in its statement said it “expresses its full and unequivocal support in favor of Karapatan, Gabriela, National Union of People’s Lawyers, (NUPL), RMP and other rights advocates organizations and individuals in asserting for the accountability of the state forces and other government officials and agencies for the killings, vilifications, threats and intimidation against rights and justice advocates even as we also appeal to the Supreme Court of the Philippines to stand firmly with the sufferers of injustice more willingly than with the perpetrators.”
Karapatan noted under the Duterte regime, “human rights advocates have been constantly subjected to relentless persecution through the filing of trumped-up criminal charges, vilification, defamatory propaganda, and even killings perpetrated by state forces.
As of June 2019, Karapatan has document 266 killings in line with the government’s counterinsurgency program, 11 of whom were human rights workers of Karapatan.