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ICHRP Condemns Judicial Harassment of Karapatan, and other Philippine Human Rights Groups

ICHRP Condemns Judicial Harassment of Karapatan, and other Philippine Human Rights Groups
Various groups of militant protesters, on Aug. 1, 2019, troop to the DOJ Bldg., in Quezon City, during hearing of a perjury case filed against groups, Karapatan, Religious Missionaries of the Phil, and Gabriela by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

Press Release
June 20, 2022

“The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) calls for the vexatious perjury case against Ms. Cristina Palabay and other leading human rights advocates in the Philippines to be withdrawn when Ms. Palabay presents her pleading today in court in Manila,” said Mr. Peter Murphy, Chairperson of the ICHRP Global Council.

“In the Orwellian world of the Philippines security cluster, those who seek court protection from state harassment and murder must be further victimized with trumped up charges designed to paralyze their work. This grave abuse of the judicial system must stop.”

As the brutal Duterte administration comes to its end, Karapatan Alliance for Human Rights, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and Gabriela Women’s Alliance continue to be dragged through the courts on malicious, retaliatory charges of perjury filed by outgoing National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., after they sought legal protection from the Supreme Court through a Petition for the Writs of Amparo and Habeas Data in May 2019.

President Duterte’s Executive Order 70 in December 2018 created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), leading to intensifying red tagging of Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela, and other civil society organizations asserting human rights. There was increased surveillance, death threats, arrests and extrajudicial killings of their members. In this context, Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela filed the petitions. The petitions sought some protection from this increased threat of state repression, and were granted on May 30, 2019, but denied in the Court of Appeal on June 28, 2019. The battle for these petitions is still in the court system.

Two of the Karapatan witnesses listed to give evidence in these court hearings were assassinated before they could appear – Ryan Hubilla in June 2019 and Zara Alvarez in August 2020.

In retaliation for the petition, on July 2, 2019, National Security Adviser Esperon Jr. filed a Complaint-Affidavit for perjury against Cristina Palabay and seven other Karapatan National Council members, as well as Gabriela Chairperson Gertrudes Ranjo Libang, Gabriela Secretary General Joan Mae Salvador, RMP National Coordinator Sr. Elenita Belardo, and RMP Northern Mindanao Region Coordinator Sr. Emma Cupin.

Esperon Jr. alleged that those named committed perjury when they stated in their Petition that the RMP is a “duly registered as a non-stock, non-profit corporation under Philippine laws.” According to Esperon Jr., “the SEC already revoked the Certificate of Registration of RMP on August 20, 2003 for its failure to submit the required General Information Sheets and Financial Statements from 1997 to 2003”. In fact, the SEC has continued to accept RMP’s financial statements. It is this spurious charge that Ms Palabay is facing today.

Karapatan is one of the leading independent voices on human rights in the Philippines. It is widely recognized by the international community for its capable and determined defense of human rights despite the challenges of doing advocacy in the Philippines. In June 2021, the US-based Human Rights First presented Karapatan with the William D. Zabel Human Rights Award for the Advancement of People’s Rights. In December 2021 Germany and France awarded Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay this year’s Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and Rule of Law for her tireless dedication to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.

RMP is a national organization of women and men – religious, priests and lay – who dedicate their lives to educating and working with the rural poor farmers and agricultural workers for genuine agrarian reform, the fisherfolk for genuine aquatic reform, and the indigenous peoples for land and self-determination, towards attainment of the fullness of life, justice, freedom and integrity of creation.

The serious violation of human rights in the Philippines was subsequently exposed by the report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Michelle Bachelet in June 2020, and by the three reports by the Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines (INVESTIGATE PH) in 2021.

“ICHRP strongly condemns the ongoing harassment and protests at the red tagging of these organizations. ICHRP and its global civil society networks stand with Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela in the face of these lawfare attacks. We call on the Philippine government to stop the attacks on these important independent civil society voices,” concluded Mr. Murphy.

For further comment: Peter Murphy +61 418 312 301