Karapatan hails finality of acquittal of its nat’l officers, other rights defenders in perjury charge

Human rights alliance Karapatan welcomed the recent dismissal of the petition for certiorari filed by former and current National Security Advisers Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Eduardo Año questioning the acquittal last January 2023 of ten human rights defenders, including seven of Karapatan’s national officers, for perjury.

In dismissing Esperon and Año’s petition, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 84 Judge Luisito Galvez Cortez ruled, in a decision penned on November 17, 2023, that Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 139 Judge Aimee Marie Alcera, who presided over the perjury trial and acquitted the rights defenders, was able to objectively and independently evaluate all the evidence of the parties and found that the prosecution’s pieces of evidence fell short in presenting its case for conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

Judge Cortez’s ruling, in effect, upheld and finalized the acquittal of Karapatan’s seven national officers of Karapatan, two national officers of Gabriela and Sr. Elenita Belardo of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines on perjury charges.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, who was among the respondents, had slammed the perjury case and ensuing petition for certiorari as clear examples of judicial harassment against Filipino human rights defenders. In an earlier statement, Palabay said that the perjury charges had been filed in 2019 by then National Security Adviser Esperon as a retaliatory measure after he was impleaded in the respondents’ prayer for a writ of amparo due to growing threats and attacks against human rights defenders.

“We hope that this decision puts an end to the use of this case to further harass us. The dismissal of Esperon and Año’s petition for certiorari is a vindication for human rights defenders in our struggle for justice and accountability,” said Palabay.

It is the third known court victory so far this week won by human rights defenders against their military accusers. Earlier, young Southern Tagalog activists Hailey Pecayo, Jasmin Rubia and Ken Rementillo, who had been accused of violating the Anti-Terrorism Law, had their cases dismissed in separate rulings by prosecutors in Laguna and Antipolo City.

Dr. Ian Fry, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change, recently called for the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the rescinding of the Anti-Terrorism Law, noting how they have been weaponized against environmental activists in the Philippines.

“The Marcos Jr. administration should stop its political persecution of activists and political dissenters through the filing of trumped-up and malicious cases, with the NTF-ELCAC’s legal cluster doing its bidding. We are determined to push back against these forms of attacks and we call on the Filipino people to continue to fight back against these forms of violations against our freedom of association and free expression,” Palabay said.