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AFP ordered to file charges vs personnel who harassed lawyer

MANILA, Philippines–The Court of Appeals has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to identify those in their ranks that are allegedly harassing a human rights lawyer and file appropriate charges against them.

In a 22-page decision, the appeals court Former Special Sixth Division also ordered respondents to produce before the court for possible destruction all information that the military has gathered about Atty. Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon including records, photographs and dossiers.

Respondents include Chief Superintendent Miguel De Mayo Laurel, acting Regional Director of the Police Regional Office 2; General Hernando Irriberi, Commanding General of the Philippine Army; General Eduardo Año, the Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Services of the AFP; and former AFP chief of staff Emmanuel Bautista.

Dannug-Salucon, in her petition for writs of habeas data and amparo, said she received information that the military has put her under surveillance and labelled her as a “red lawyer” for representing political prisoners suspected to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

A member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer (NUPL) based in Isabela, she said there were several instances of military men casing and asking about her and her activities.  She said there was an instance when a motorcycle cut off her car while pulling out of the garage.

Dannug-Salucon’s counsel Ephraim Cortez added that when her paralegal, William Bugatti, was killed that same day, he informed her that she needs additional security measures for her protection.

A writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security has been violated or is threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats.

A habeas data on the other hand, protects a person’s right to control information especially when the information against the person was illegally obtained.

The military, in its response to her petition, denied that it ever placed her under surveillance. It branded the allegations of the lawyer as “sweeping and mere fabrication.”

Still, the military said it verified the allegations of Dannug-Salucon.

But ISAFP denied involvement in any surveillance activity against the lady lawyer.

In its ruling, the appeals court said “after a careful review of the records of the instant case, we find that petitioner was able to prove by substantial evidence her allegation that she was subjected to surveillance operations and harassment by individuals working under the command of the respondents.”

While on some instances, the petitioner, according to the court relied heavily on hearsay evidence which are inadmissible but the petition involves her right to life, liberty and security.

“Thus, there is a need to exercise flexibility in the consideration of evidence which would otherwise not be admissible under the ordinary rules of procedure,” the appeals court thru Associate Justice Hakim Abdulwahid said.

Also, the appeals court added that they are not satisfied with the efforts taken by the military to confirm the allegations of Dannug-Salucon.

“A review of the records and documentary evidence presented by respondents [AFP] will show that, aside from the orders issued by respondents to the units or subordinates under their respective command, respondents did not exert greater effort in verifying the allegations of petitioner,” the appeals court said.

Concurring in the decision are Associate Justices Romeo Barza and Zenaida Galapate-Laguilles. ID

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