Rights groups seek protection from high court amid heightening attacks

Officers of Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela file a petition for writ of amparo and writ of habeas data before the Supreme Court, May 6. (Photo courtesy of Karapatan)

“Human rights advocacy is not a crime, yet human rights workers are being killed, threatened, harassed, and jailed on trumped-up charges.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Three organizations labeled by Duterte administration as “communist fronts” and whose members became victims of different human rights abuses sought protection from the Supreme Court, May 6.

Human rights alliance Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and Gabriela, with the assistance from lawyers of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), have filed a petition for writ of amparo and writ of habeas data before the Supreme Court.

The petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. It covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof. The writ of habeas data, meanwhile, is a remedy available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party.

In a statement, Karapatan National Chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi said the filing of the petition “is a response to the worsening attacks, terrorist- tagging by the Philippine military and the ongoing smear campaign against human rights defenders.”

Respondents to the said petition are President Rodrigo Duterte, Gen. (Ret.) Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Delfin Lorenzana, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., Brig. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, Maj. Gen. Erwin Bernard Neri, Lt. Gen. Macairog Alberto, Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., Alex Paul Monteagudo, Vicente Agdamag, Senior Supt. Omega Jireh Fidel, and Undersecretaries Joel Sy Egco, Severo Catura and Lorraine Marie Badoy.

“We call on the Supreme Court to recognize that our work and activism involves the full exercise of our civil and political rights, and is in no way tantamount to a crime,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said.

In its 44-page petition, the three organizations underscored the intensified red baiting, vilification, threats and harassment against them.

For at least six times, President Rodrigo Duterte himself publicly tagged Karapatan as a communist front and accused the organization of committing rebellion.

Karapatan said that such labeling has resulted in glaring human rights violations against human rights workers.

“Human rights advocacy is not a crime, yet human rights workers are being killed, threatened, harassed, and jailed on trumped-up charges,” Lubi said.

The groups cited the killing of Karapatan members Elisa Badayos, Mariam Uy Acob and Bernardino Patigas and RMP’s Central Luzon Regional Coordinator Fr. Marcelino Paez. Both Acob and Patigas received death threats and were both red tagged before they were killed.

The groups also cited the arrest of two Karapatan-Western Mindanao staff on Nov. 18, 2017 by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 9 and the 1st Infantry Tabak Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Pagadian City; the arrest and detention of RMP Southern Mindanao Regional Coordinator Amelia Pond; the arrest and detention of Gabriela’s Hedda DL Calderon; and, the deportation of former RMP National Coordinator Patricia Ann Fox.

Also mentioned in the petition were the trumped-up charges of murder filed against nine members of Karapatan quick reaction team in Nasugbu, Batangas and the inclusion of human rights workers in the Department of Justice’s petition to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist organizations.

The organizations took offense in the vilification campaign done by government officials against them before the international community. In February this year, members of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict went around Europe and publicly declared Karapatan, RMP and other organizations as communist fronts before the diplomatic community.

State security forces also distributed posters and flyers vilifying the organizations in different parts of the country. Some of those tagged as communists were subjected to surveillance and received death threats.

“… [T]he threats are real and actual, and became more intense after the creation of NTF and after the barrage of accusations targeting the petitioners,” the petition read.

The petitioners added that there is a clear violation of the right to security as this right includes freedom from any threat and can exist independently of the right to liberty.

The petitioners called on the high court to issue a writ of amparo in their favor and to order the respondents to reveal and destroy all information collected about the petitioners.

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