Karapatan: Attempted murder charge vs rights workers are pure hogwash, judicial harassment

Human rights alliance Karapatan assailed the attempted murder charge against its National Chairperson Elisa Lubi and Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region Secretary General Jayvee “Jay” Apiag as “utterly absurd trumped-up charges only meant to harass and threaten them as the Duterte government has done to other human rights workers” as Lubi and Apiag filed their petitions on March 29, 2021 and March 12, 2021 respectively, urging a Davao City court to conduct a reinvestigation on the case and to recall the arrests warrants issued against them.

“This attempted murder charge filed by the military is bereft of any factual basis. As they assert in their motions, Jay Apiag is well-documented to be in a different place during the supposed encounter between rebels and the military; the same goes for Elisa Lubi, who was already a senior citizen at the time and physically incapable of engaging in combat. Both were likewise denied of their right to due process, as they did not receive copies of subpoenas to participate in the preliminary investigation on the case. Clearly, these charges are pure hogwash and judicial harassment targeting human rights workers,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Lubi and Apiag are facing an attempted murder charge filed by Corporal Elvin Jay Claud regarding an alleged May 20, 2018 armed encounter between elements of the New People’s Army and the Philippine Army’s 89th Infantry Battalion and 10th Infantry Division in Sitio Balite, Brgy. Salapawan, Paquibato District, Davao City. The case was only filed on June 3, 2020 — two years after the alleged encounter.

Based on Claud’s sworn statement, the alleged incident occurred at 6:20 p.m. as his unit was already conducting a combat operation but were supposedly ambushed allegedly by an “undetermined number of communist terrorist armed groups.” While taking cover and exchanging fire with alleged rebels, Claud supposedly was able to identify with certainty Lubi and Apiag along with three other individuals implicated in the attempted murder charge.

Palabay said that “as per Claud’s own sworn statement, his own tall tale to charge two human rights workers of firing at them is pure fiction. It is riddled with obvious and glaring holes. How can he be able to identify individuals while taking cover and firing at them, while also stating that there is an ‘undetermined number’ of men ambushing them? Why wait for two years to file the case if he was so certain of their identities? Katawa-tawa itong kwentong barberong ito.”

In Apiag’s joint motion with Cristony Jun Monzon, secretary general of indigenous people’s confederation Pasaka, filed on March 12 before the Davao City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 52, he manifested that, at the time of the alleged encounter, he was interviewing the kin of Ariel Maquiran at Brgy. Madaum, Tagum City, Davao del Norte. Maquiran is an industrial worker in a banana plantation who was shot dead by suspected agents of the Philippine Army’s 16th Infantry Battalion on May 17, 2018.

Meanwhile, Lubi manifested in her motion filed before the same court on Monday, March 29, that she was in Metro Manila during the date of the encounter and that “there is an abundance of evidence showing [her] presence in Metro Manila in the days, weeks and months preceding and following the alleged incident.” The motion also stated that “[i]t is physically implausible for [her] to engage in an armed combat” for she was “75 turning 76 years old, and suffering from the usual conditions ailing people of such advanced age” such as being overweight, hypertension, and arthritis.

“Human rights defenders especially among human rights workers and lawyers must be fulfilling their mission of defending human and people’s rights because they are so despised by a repressive government which cannot take any criticism, no matter how valid. It is with impunity that the Duterte government’s military, police and other henchmen continue to file preposterous made-up charges against individuals and groups who do not tolerate nor keep silent about the Duterte government’s atrocious attacks on its critics, and even defenseless victims who got in its way or caught its ire,” Lubi said in a statement.

“Jay Apiag and Elisa Lubi are human rights workers. They are not combatants, and they more certainly not criminals nor terrorists — and many human rights workers like them are facing constant red-tagging and trumped-up charges from perjured and fabricated testimonies and even planted evidence supposedly seized during police raids on their offices,” Palabay continued, as she cited the perjury case against Karapatan filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., as well as similar trumped up cases against National Council Members Daisy “Jacky” Valencia, of Cagayan Valley, Teresita Naul of Northern Mindanao, and Alexander Philip Abinguna of Eastern Visayas, and the recent arrests of Karapatan paralegals Nimfa Lanzanas in Laguna and Renalyn Tejero in Cagayan de Oro City.

“We call on the court Davao City RTC to recall the warrants against Elisa Lubi and Jay Apiag and to reinvestigate the case and allow them to disprove the military’s absurd fictional accounts. Human rights workers from Karapatan are being targeted by these lies and fabricated charges in order to stop us from doing our work. We are being branded as ‘terrorists’ to vilify us — and they have killed many of our colleagues in their desperate efforts to silence us. The facts, however, are on our side, and we will not stop in defending and advancing people’s especially in the face of persecution, judicial harassment, and State repression,” Palabay ended.