Karapatan urges SC to grant petition for review on CA’s dismissal of rights groups’ amparo case

Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and Gabriela today filed their petition for review at the Supreme Court, after the 14th Division of the Court of Appeals dismissed their petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data.

Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and Gabriela today filed their petition for review at the Supreme Court, after the 14th Division of the Court of Appeals dismissed their petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data. The three groups asked the SC  to annul and set aside the CA decision.

“The dismissal of our petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data was already tantamount to the CA’s complicity on the attacks perpetrated against us. We now urge the Supreme Court (SC) to grant our petition for review, which challenges the CA’s decision. We maintain that our petition is urgent amid the spate of intensified red-tagging, illegal arrests, and killings perpetrated against us by this government,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
On May 6, 2019, petitioners Karapatan, Gabriela and RMP filed a petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data before the SC. On May 24, 2019, the High Court directed the Court of Appeals to conduct hearings and resolve the petition. On June 18, 2019, the CA’s 14th Division held a three-hour summary hearing on the petition filed by the groups, but the court justices disallowed the petitioners to present testimonial evidence and other documents to prove the allegations and incidents cited in the petition. On June 28, 2019, the 14th Division subsequently dismissed the said habeas data and amparo petition.
“The dismissal of our petition by the CA is outrageous. It is a decision that will worsen the impunity in the country and will further enable state forces to continue terrorizing communities and individuals critical of the government. The court justices’ refusal to hear our testimonies was truly disappointing. They disallowed us to present testimonial evidence and they struck down the petition on the basis of technicalities. This was not an impartial procedure determined to hear the aggrieved party, but a ruling that favored the perpetrators and masterminds behind the policies that has led to the crackdown on human rights defenders,” she said.
Under the present regime, human rights advocates have been constantly subjected to relentless persecution through the filing of trumped-up criminal charges, vilification, defamatory propaganda, and even killings perpetrated by state forces. As of June 2019, Karapatan has document 266 killings in line with the government’s counterinsurgency program, 11 of which are human rights workers of Karapatan.
In the Petition for Review, Karapatan cited how President Rodrigo Duterte has explicitly contributed to the threats and harassment being initiated against rights defenders. Since October 2017, he has red-tagged and vilified the organization for a total of 6 times in his public and official speeches and conferences.
“When Duterte started and focused his tirades against us, he declared an open season against our officers and members, along with other members of various rights groups by wrongfully tagging us as a “legal front” of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. This is akin to explicitly identifying us as targets, thus making human rights work even more dangerous in the country,” Palabay added, citing that during this entire amparo petition process, five human rights workers of Karapatan were killed in Bicol.
Karapatan-Sorsogon staff members Ryan Hubilla, 22, and Nelly Bagasala, 69, were gunned down by unknown gunmen on June 15, 2019, after facilitating the release of a political prisoner in the region, while three peasant human rights workers of the Masbate People’s Organization – Arnie Espenilla, Zando Alcovendas, and Pizo Cabug – were killed on separate occasions from June 9 to June 14 by soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Battalion. 
Palabay also hit the perjury case filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. against the petitioners, which was reported in the newspapers on July 4, 2019, adding that this is a concrete and exact example of judicial harassment being faced by human rights defenders. “Esperon is adding to the merit of our petition. This is indicative of how this government is geared towards destroying the credibility of vocal organizations which have raised concerns on issues that this regime bury,” she explained.
According to the Karapatan official, the SC should reverse the CA’s decision. She challenged the SC “to prove that it is not an instrument of impunity and injustice, and that it can choose to heed the need of human rights defenders for protection.”
“For the sake of all human rights defenders who have been killed, and those who continue to remain in the line of fire, we urge the Court to stand alongside rights defenders. While we are pursuing other platforms for protection and accountability, the SC’s decision will mark its position between the victims and the militarists. We remain committed in pursuing the fight for justice, and will march forward alongside the victims, their families, and the thousands of Filipinos violated and marginalized by this government,” Palabay concluded.