More than a thousand rights advocates to DOJ from 26 countries: dismiss trumped up charges vs Karapatan, RMP, Gabriela

Yesterday, November 19, the petition of more than a thousand individual rights advocates calling for the dismissal of the trumped up and malicious perjury charges against twelve leaders of Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela was submitted to the Department of Justice in Manila.

The charges were filed by National Security Adviser and concurrent vice-chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict General Hermogenes Esperon, Jr, after the organizations filed a petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data before the Supreme Court, with Esperon and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte as among the respondents.

Earlier this year, Esperon accused the human rights organizations of making perjurious claims on the basis of a “miniscule issue,” in an act to further persecute rights defenders. The government officials pressed perjury charges against twelve officers of the three organizations regarding the registration of the RMP as a non-profit non-governmental organization before the court when they filed their petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data to seek legal protection against government harassment and intimidation. But the groups insist that the accusations are false as the RMP continues to operate as an NGO to this day.

In an earlier statement, RMP said that it has filed for a renewal of registration back in 2010, and have subsequently submitted a General Information Sheet and Audited Financial Statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Thus, they assert that the attestation they have made were in good faith and borne out of diligence.

Individual advocates from the Philippines, Belgium, Hongkong, Saudi Arabia, Italy, United Kingdom, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Iceland, United States, Canada, Malaysia, Thailand, Denmark, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Finland, South Korea, Germany, South Africa, Sweden, Kyrgyzstan, Brazil, and Norway who sent the petition also demanded that the Duterte government desist from threatening and attacking all human rights defenders. 

“We are alarmed that human rights defenders have increasingly become targets of killings, malicious attacks and acts of reprisals by the government. Human rights defenders and their organizations suffer from political and judicial persecution and harassment, unlawful surveillance, restrictions, tactics of intimidations and suppression, and slanderous and smear campaigns. In all these cases, the government has evaded accountability, thereby reinforcing the climate of violence and impunity in the country,” the individuals stated in the petition.

Among those facing the complaint, which is due for resolution by the Office of the Prosecutor in Quezon City are Karapatan Chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi, Vice Chairperson Reylan Vergara, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor, and National Council members at large Dr. Edita Burgos, mother of disappeared Jonas Burgos, critically-acclaimed filmmaker and artist Kiri Dalena, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol, and youth activist Jose Mari Callueng.

“We are strongly alarmed in the way that those who are at the forefront for the defense, promotion and protection of human rights have become the targets of unwarranted and malicious acts of state reprisals. The perjury charges against officers of Karapatan, Gabriela and RMP represents the government’s policy of criminalizing human rights defenders to dilute the legitimacy and integrity of their work in obtaining justice for victims of human rights violations. This form of judicial harassment indicates the shameless manner by which government can abuse legal and judicial processes to render punitive actions against human rights defenders,” the petitioners said. 

They called on Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to “dismiss the perjury case malevolently filed against officers of Karapatan, Gabriela and RMP.” 

“We must not allow the government to continue with the judicial harassment of human rights defenders by concocting unwarranted and trumped-up cases. We demand the immediate dropping of charges against them and for the government to desist from threatening and attacking all human rights defenders,” they stated.