Supreme Court issues writ of amparo and habeas data in favor of red-tagged rights groups Karapatan, Gabriela, RMP

On May 24, 2019, the Supreme Court, in an en banc session, issued a writ of amparo and habeas data in favor of petitioners Karapatan, Gabriela, and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP). The Court also directed the Court of Appeals to hear the petition on June 18, 2019, and to submit a decision on the case. The said organizations filed petitions for a writ of amparo and habeas data on May 6, 2019, citing incidents of threats, red-tagging and attacks against members and officers. 

Respondents President Rodrigo Duterte, DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., Brig. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, Maj. Gen. Erwin Neri, Lt. Gen. Macairog Sabiniano Alberto, NICA Director Gen. Alex Paul Monteagudo, Deputy Dir. Gen. Vicente Agdamag, Senior Supt. Omega Jireh Fidel, Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., Executive Director Jole Sy Egco, Undersecretary Severo Catura, and PCOO Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy were also required to make a return of the writ before the Court of Appeals on or before June 13, 2019. 

“There has been no respite in the military and the government’s attacks against our organization and other human rights defenders and activists, but this is a much welcome development. We are aware that this is just the beginning of an arduous battle, but we take courage from all the human rights defenders who withstood the worst of this repressive government, and all those who have been killed in the cause for human rights. The Duterte administration has poured effort, resources and time into undermining our work but unfortunately for them, we will always assert our right to continue human rights advocacy. As they attack us from all fronts, we fight back in the same persistent and determined manner,” said Karapatan National Chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi.

In the petition filed by Karapatan last May 6, the group cited various incidents of attacks against its human rights workers, including trumped up charges implicating Lubi, death threats sent to Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, posters and banners maligning the organization and its officers including its Vice Chairperson Reylan Vergara hanged in public places, pronouncement of military officials referring to Karapatan as a communist front, and public speeches red-tagging the rights group by no less than President Duterte.

According to Karapatan’s documentation, 58 human rights workers of Karapatan have been subjected to extrajudicial killings, 7 of which were killed under the Duterte regime. This includes Elisa Badayos, coordinator of Karapatan Central Visayas, Mariam Acob, paralegal of Kawagib Moro Human Rights Alliance, Atty. Benjamin Ramos of Karapatan-Negros, and Bernardino Patigas of Karapatan-Negros.
“The unbridled lies and red-tagging, exemplified by statements of troll-in-uniform Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., is meant to incite violence against human rights defenders, demoralize and discourage us from our work, and discredit organizations that expose and bring forward cases of human rights violations,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. 

“This favorable decision by the Supreme Court comes at a crucial time. The Court has seen the merit of our petition, and we see this as an acknowledgment of the perilous environment that human rights defenders work in. We reiterate that activism and the full exercise of our civil and political rights is not a crime. While we continue with our everyday human rights work, we are also resolute in our commitment to see this through. This is a reminder to the government that sectors and defenders under attack, despite the orchestrated bullying, will find ways to demand and exact accountability. To the respondents, see you in court,” concluded Palabay.