Karapatan urges DOJ: Dismiss Esperon’s baseless perjury claims against rights defenders

Following the perjury complaint filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. against human rights defenders of Karapatan, Religious Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and Gabriela, they attended the preliminary investigation set by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Quezon City today, August 1, 2019. 

“Esperon has accused us of making perjurious claims, on the basis of a miniscule issue, in an act of further persecution of rights defenders. The RMP has already aired its side, stating that it has filed for a renewal of registration back in 2010, and have subsequently submitted a General Information Sheet and Audited Financial Statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). We likewise assert that the attestation we have made were in good faith and borne out of diligence. This malicious claim of perjury deflects the more fundamental matters that we have raised in our petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data at the Court of Appeals,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. 

Among those facing the complaint are Karapatan Chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi, Vice Chairperson Reylan Vergara, Palabay, Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor, and National Council members at large Dr. Edita Burgos, mother of disappeared Jonas Burgos, multi-awarded filmmaker Kiri Dalena, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol and youth activist Jose Mari Callueng. 

On May 6, 2019, petitioners Karapatan, Gabriela and RMP filed a petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data before the SC. On May 24, 2019, the High Court directed the Court of Appeals to raffle off the case and to hear and resolve the Petition on June 18, 2019, and gave an order to the respondents to submit a verified return of the writs before the Court of Appeals on or before June 13, 2019. During the three-hour hearing at the CA’s 14th Division, the petitioners’ plea to present witnesses and additional evidence were denied. The amparo and habeas data petition was dismissed last June 28, 2019. Days after, on July 2, NSA Esperon filed the perjury complaint, according to news reports, on the basis of the individual respondents’ claims in the amparo petition that the RMP, an inter-congregational and inter-diocesan organization in of women and men religious, priests and lay people, is a duly registered as a non-stock, non-profit corporation under Philippine laws. 

RMP, for its part, already released statement stating that they are in possession of documents submitted to the SEC for the last four years. They have also consulted the SEC immediately after they were made aware of the situation, and likewise urged the public and the respondents to not deflect on the core issue of state-sponsored attacks.

“This is in line with the government’s effort to harass and discredit human rights organizations and activists who continue to expose abuses and violations perpetrated by State forces,” added Palabay.

Karapatan emphasized that amid this judicial harassment, human rights workers on the ground continue to be threatened and killed. “As of June 2019, 11 Karapatan workers have already been killed under the Duterte government. It is infuriating that while we seek justice for these violations, alongside initiatives to provide protection to human rights defenders, militarists like Esperon continue to attack us on all fronts,” she said. 

“Furthermore, Esperon and this government’s attack dogs have not ceased in red tagging organizations,” said Palabay, citing that in a press briefing on July 31, NSA Esperon tagged Karapatan, yet again, as a “legal front” of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Palabay also expressed that Esperon himself is responsible for the numerous violations under the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when he was AFP Chief-of-Staff. “There were over a thousand extrajudicial killings under the government of Arroyo, and we would like to remind Esperon of his responsibility over the attacks committed by the Arroyo regime. Esperon is a seasoned architect of human rights violations, impunity, and reprisals,” she added.

“Akin to our appeal to the Supreme Court, we urge the Office of the Prosecutor of the Justice Department in Qiezon City to dismiss this perjury case and revert the issue back to the attacks that human rights defenders are facing under this government. NSA Esperon is magnifying technicalities and deliberately ignoring the urgent issues at hand. Like Duterte, Esperon is instead attacking organizations instead of answering the allegations made against him and other respondents,” Palabay concluded.