CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, is alarmed by the ongoing judicial harassment against members of three human rights groups that have been accused of perjury for seeking legal protection from the Supreme Court against government harassment and intimidation.
Around court hearings this week - where National Council members from Karapatan will deliver their testimonies - our organisation calls on the government of the Philippines to immediately drop all charges against them and halt all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders.
The perjury case stems from a petition for protection, through the writs of amparo and habeas data, submitted in May 2019 by the National Council members of Karapatan, national officers of women alliance, GABRIELA and religious group - the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP). The government tagged the organisations as alleged fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The petition was initially granted but later denied by the Court of Appeal in June 2019. A petition for review of the decision is still pending.
In the act of retaliation, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. filed a complaint of perjury in July 2019 against Karapatan National Council members Cristina Palabay, Elisa Lubi, Roneo Clamor, Edita Burgos, Reylan Vergara, Wilfredo Ruazol, Gabriela Krista Dalena and Jose Mari Callueng, as well as GABRIELA Chairperson Gertrudes Ranjo-Libang, GABRIELA Secretary-General Joan Mae Salvador, and RMP National Coordinator Sister Elenita Belardo and RMP Northern Mindano Region Coordinator Sister Emma Cupin. The complaint accused the groups of providing false registration information about the RMP in their plea as the organisation’s registration had been revoked for failure to submit required documentation.
During the preliminary investigation, Sister Belardo asserted the RMP’s belief in good faith that its application for re-registration with the SEC has been approved, presenting proof of the RMP’s submissions of the General Information Sheet and Audited Financial Statement that the SEC continued to receive in the past.
“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally drop these malicious perjury charges against civil society groups Karapatan, GABRIELA and RMP, which are clearly politically motivated. Human rights defenders should not be punished for seeking legal protection. This case is a retaliatory action against them to silence their voices,” said Cornelius Hanung, CIVICUS Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer.
Human rights groups have been targeted by President Duterte for their criticism of his drug war that has led to the widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects. This includes Karapatan, a national alliance of organisations working to promote and defend human rights and people’s rights in the Philippines. The group has been subjected to surveillance, vilification, cyberattacks, arrests and ‘red-tagging’ or being labelled communists or terrorists, putting them at grave risk. A pervasive culture of impunity has meant that perpetrators of these violations have not been held accountable.
The incoming national security adviser to the Philippines’ President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has said she intends to stop ‘red-tagging’. These remarks suggest a critical reversal of a dangerous policy is being considered. However, this is not enough; much more needs to be done by the new administration to address the serious human rights violations, including greater protection for human rights defenders.
“The change of government offers the new President an opportunity to reverse the brutal policies of the Duterte regime, including the dismantling of civic freedoms and instead create an enabling environment for civil society to undertake their work without fear of harassment and intimidation. It can start by calling for an end to the judicial persecution of these human rights groups and ending the cycle of impunity in the Philippines,” said Cornelius Hanung
Civic space in the Philippines is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.