Protestant bishops, ecumenical group air support for embattled human rights defenders

In their respective statements, the Council of Bishops of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, led by its General Secretary Bishop Melzar Labuntog and composed of 27 bishops, and the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (Ecuvoice) led by Rt. Rev. Rex B. Reyes, Jr., D.D. expressed support for human rights defenders of Karapatan, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela. The said organizations have filed petitions for the writs of amparo and habeas data to seek legal protection from killings, threats, harassment and other forms of intimidation. 

The 14th Division of the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data by Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela on June 28, 2019. On Monday, July 29, the three organizations will file a petition for review at the Supreme Court to raise issues regarding the CA’s dismissal of their petition. 

On July 4, petitioners in the said court case received news that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon filed a perjury complaint against them before the Office of the Prosecutor in Quezon City. On August 1, the first hearing on the said complaint will be held in Quezon City. Among those facing perjury charges are Elisa Tita Lubi, Karapatan National Chairperson and former interim Regional Coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; Reylan Vergara, Karapatan Vice Chairperson and Karapatan-Panay Secretary General; Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General and Regional Council member of APWLD; Roneo Clamor, Karapatan Deputy Secretary General; Gabriela Krista Ll. Dalena, Tanggol Bayi convener and awarded filmmaker and artist; and Karapatan National Council members at large Dr. Edita Burgos, mother of disappeared activist Jonas Burgos; Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente; and Jose Mari Callueng, former National President of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.  

Meanwhile, on July 11, the 15th Division of the CA dismissed the plea for NUPL’s temporary protection order, which are among the reliefs sought by the lawyers’ group in their petition for the writ of amparo and habeas data. 

“The Council of Bishops of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (COB-UCCP) expresses its full and unequivocal support in favor of Karapatan, Gabriela, National Union of People’s Lawyers, (NUPL), Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and other rights advocates organizations and individuals in asserting for the accountability of the state forces and other government officials and agencies for the killings, vilifications, threats and intimidation against rights and justice advocates even as we also appeal to the Supreme Court of the Philippines to stand firmly with the sufferers of injustice more willingly than with the perpetrators,” said the 27 bishops of the UCCP in their statement. 

The bishops, addressing the Supreme Court, added “This is a defining moment for the highest court of the land to prove that the justice system in the country is still at work not for the interest of the powerful few but for the interest of truth and justice.” 

Ecuvoice’s Reyes said “We can thus be grateful that all these years, men and women have come and gone, fired by a sense of truth amidst falsehood, reverence to human life amidst a climate of fear and benumbed apathy and justice where the same is denied or manipulated.” 
“Labelling and name-calling and the suppression of human rights advocates and defenders do not negate the glaring reality of injustice.  They only serve to point out to the reality of truth being twisted, covered and denied. It is in this light that Ecuvoice supports Karapatan, the National Union of People’s Lawers (NUPL), Gabriela and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, in their quest for truth and justice in relation to their petitions for the Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data,” Reyes said.