"National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. is behind this political persecution against rights groups. Knowing he has no case against Karapatan, Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), he has instead settled with targeting a single individual — 80 year-old Sister Elenita Belardo. We are with Sr. Elen throughout this result, and will continue to strongly assert that this trumped-up case is a form of reprisal against RMP’s advocacy. Sr.
"National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. is behind this political persecution against rights groups. Knowing he has no case against Karapatan, Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), he has instead settled with targeting a single individual — 80 year-old Sister Elenita Belardo. We are with Sr. Elen throughout this result, and will continue to strongly assert that this trumped-up case is a form of reprisal against RMP’s advocacy. Sr. Elen is not a perjurer nor a criminal, unlike Esperon who has been military chief under Gloria Arroyo and has been implicated in corruption charges and various rights violations," said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.
In a resolution dated November 8, but was only received by respondents on Wednesday, December 4, the perjury case filed by NSA Esperon on July 2, 2019, was dismissed by Senior Assistant Prosecutor Nilo A. Peñaflor for “lack of probable cause and/or insufficiency of evidence” against Karapatan officers Elisa Tita Lubi, Reylan Vergara, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Edita Burgos, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol, and Jose Mari Callueng, RMP’s Sr. Emma Cupin and two Gabriela officers. However, the case, which is bailable, was still filed against Sr. Elenita Belardo, RGS in her capacity as then National Coordinator of RMP. As of Thursday, December 5, an order for the issuance of a warrant of arrest has been released by the Branch 37 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City.
The perjury case was filed by Esperon after Karapatan, Gabriela, and RMP filed a petition for the issuance of writs of amparo and habeas corpus at the Supreme Court in May 2019. The groups named President Duterte and several military and government officials, including Esperon, who are part of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as respondents. The groups sought protection from the Court, citing a series of red-tagging and human rights violations directed and the organizations and its members.
"Who is afraid of Sr. Elen? Again, this crass, arrogant but failure of a government has chosen to pick a fight with another elderly nun. Last year, it was 71 year-old missionary nun Patricia Fox. This government is clearly worked up when it comes to missionaries under the RMP because the latter has long exposed inadequacies and undelivered basic services in the countryside," said Palabay.
The Karapatan official emphasized that this is in keeping with the systematic drive and legal offensive of the government through Executive Order No. 70 against human rights defenders and advocacy organizations, which include religious groups. Palabay recalled that lawyers of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) were dipping their noses into the case and attending pre-trial hearings even though they were not technically party to it.
"This is because this trumped-up charge is part of the sinister plans under Executive Order No. 70, particularly under its Legal Cooperation Cluster, which aims to file absurd cases against known critics against the government. The OSG is among the lead agencies in this cluster. Likewise, the said E.O. created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which Esperon leads as vice-chair. This is an orchestrated and calculated attempt to silence dissent," she explained.
According to Palabay, "the trumped-up case filed by Esperon is absurd as it was immaterial to the petition for the writ of amparo filed by RMP, to which Esperon is one of the respondents. Even the Court of Appeals affirmed that organizations still have legal standing to avail of the amparo remedy, whether they are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or not. We repeat that the RMP did not have any intent to falsify, manufacture, or misrepresent anything. The reprisal perjury case shows us how vindictive and repressive this government can be: a government that criminalizes development work and dissent, weaponizes the law, and uses all its resources to turn its agencies into a repressive machinery."
She added that Sr. Elen has more credibility than Duterte and all his generals combined: "Sr. Elen has spent years away from the spotlight, dedicating herself in literacy programs. While this government is focused on destroying schools and denying the dismal state of education in the country, the likes of Sr. Elen have long invested their time, love, and effort, in helping communities attain their right to education and right to self-determination."
“As we stand firmly by Sr. Elen’s side, we warn Esperon that this we will not let this pass. We will fight back,” concluded Palabay.