Karapatan slams renewed judicial harassment, attacks vs officers

Human rights alliance Karapatan slammed the renewed judicial harassment against Filipino human rights defenders as well as attacks on the integrity and independence of judges, as its officers – Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Dr. Edita Burgos, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol, and Jose Mari Callueng – filed their joint comment today, July 20, 2023, on the petition for certiorari by former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. regarding his perjury case against leaders of Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela. 

In his petition, Esperon Jr. assailed the January 2023 decision of Quezon City Municipal Trial Court Judge Aimee Marie Alcera acquitting the six above-mentioned human rights defenders, Karapatan chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi, former RMP coordinator Sr. Elenita Belardo, and Gabriela leaders Gert Libang and Joan May Salvador, of charges of perjury.  Karapatan said that the perjury charges that was filed in 2019 by Esperon Jr. is 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.

After the acquittal, Esperon charged Judge Alcera of “grave abuse of discretion” and asked the Regional Trial Court to review the records of the case. Esperon’s petition is now pending before QC RTC Branch 84 under Judge Luisito Galvez Cortez.

In their comment on the certiorari petition by Esperon, Karapatan’s national council members asked the court to dismiss the petition, thereby sustaining their acquittal for the crime of perjury. They said that it would be a grave injustice and a violation of their rights against double jeopardy (or being tried twice for the same crime) if the State is allowed to make attempts to overturn their acquittal at the Metropolitan Trial Court, in the guise of grave abuse of discretion through a petition for certiorari.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay denounced Esperon’s reopening of the perjury case as “but one in a series of renewed attacks against the human rights defenders of Karapatan.”  She cited the filing of indirect contempt charges by Marcos Jr. supporter Atty. Ferdinand Topacio against her and eight others after they assailed a Muntinlupa court’s decision denying bail to former Sen. Leila de Lima. “The case is a direct attack on our freedom of expression,” said Palabay.

“On top of this,” she added, “I and Karapatan legal counsel Atty. Maria Sol Taule have been viciously red-tagged and suffer other forms of threats and harassment, particularly from Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) which is owned by rabid Marcos Jr. and Duterte supporter Apollo Quiboloy.”

“In Tacloban City,” said Palabay, “Karapatan’s Eastern Visayas coordinator Philip Abinguna is in jail for fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives after their office was raided in February 2020.”

Palabay said that women judges like Alcera who demonstrated their integrity and independence in rendering decisions that are not to the liking of red-taggers and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict are being maligned.

Aside from Judge Alcera, Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing Ignacio was red-tagged and publicly maligned after she quashed a spurious search warrant and dismissed trumped-up cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against community journalist Lady Ann Salem and union organizer Rodrigo Esparago. Manila RTC Branch 19 Presiding Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar was likewise red-tagged, insulted and received death threats after she dismissed a petition from the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking to declare the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations in a 135-page decision issued on September 21, 2022.

“As embattled human rights defenders, we call for solidarity from the broad human rights community here and abroad,” said Palabay. “We likewise appeal for support for judges who have shown courage, independence and integrity in issuing their judgments, especially at a time when the law is increasingly being weaponized to harass and persecute us.” 

The six Karapatan officers appealed to the court to dismiss Esperon’s petition and uphold their acquittal. The court has scheduled a hearing on August 29, 2023 regarding the petition for certiorari. 

Read our urgent appeal here: