Karapatan urges CHR to probe trumped-up attempted murder charge, judicial harassment vs rights workers

Human rights alliance Karapatan called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the judicial harassment of human rights workers from Karapatan following the recent arrest of Karapatan – Caraga paralegal Renelyn Tejero along with the trumped-up attempted murder charge filed against Karapatan National Chairperson Elisa Lubi and Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region Secretary General Jayvee Apiag.

“Lubi, Apiag and Tejero are human rights workers. They are not combatants, and they are 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,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in the letter sent to CHR Chairperson Jose Luis Gaston yesterday, April 5, 2021.

Tejero, 25, was arrested by elements of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army in Brgy. Lapasan Cagayan de Oro City on March 21, 2021 and is currently facing murder and attempted murder charges in the alleged murder of Corporal Marion Suson in an encounter with supposed New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on November 19, 2019.

Four soldiers from the 12th Scout Ranger Company of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion of the Philippine Army claimed in their affidavits that they were able to identify all suspects, presumably including Tejero, because they are “the same pictures of faces at the O(r)der of Battle listed of the 4th Infantry Division, Intelligence Section, Philippine Army.”

Meanwhile, Lubi, 79, and Apiag, 33, are facing an attempted murder charge filed by Corporal Elvin Jay Claud regarding an alleged May 20, 2018 armed encounter between elements of the NPA and the Philippine Army’s 89th Infantry Battalion and 10th Infantry Division in Brgy. Salapawan, Paquibato, Davao City. The case was only filed on June 3, 2020 — two years after the alleged encounter.

Based on Claud’s sworn statement, the incident occurred at 6:20 p.m. as his unit was already conducting a combat operation but were 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.

In the letter to the CHR, Palabay asserted that “the allegations of the soldiers [are] incredible, witless and illogical” and that “[t]he stories in the affidavits are likewise riddled with copy-pasted stories.” Aside from the charges against Lubi, Apiag, and Tejero, the Karapatan officer also urged the CHR “to look into this dangerous pattern of judicial harassment and red-tagging of human rights defenders.”

Palabay cited in the letter the judicial harassment faced by human rights workers from Karapatan such as the perjury case filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. against Karapatan’s national officers and the charges against National Council member Daisy “Jacky” Valencia, detained National Council members Teresita Naul and Alexander Philip Abinguna, and detained Karapatan – Southern Tagalog paralegal Nimfa Lanzanas.

She further urged the CHR to “take steps to inform actions of various government bodies, including the Supreme Court, to put a stop to this direct violation on people’s right to association and to exercise human rights work” as she requested the CHR to provide the Supreme Court with copies of complaints and reports on threats against human rights defenders of Karapatan in response the Supreme Court’s March 23, 2021 statement on the killings of lawyers and judges.

“With Karapatan’s petition for review on the Court of Appeals’ decision on our petition for the writ of amparo still pending, we believe it is important that the [Supreme Court] takes note of the urgency of our petition and hopefully heed our prayer for legal protection,” Palabay ended.