Rights groups, victims urge SC anew to take urgent action to protect rights defenders vs red-tagging, arrests, killings

The Supreme Court must take urgent action to protect human rights defenders and their lawyers, human rights groups and victims of human rights violations urged anew on Tuesday in a letter submitted before the high court in response to its March 23, 2021 statement on the threats, red-tagging, and killings of judges and lawyers as well as their clients. Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, one of the signatories in the letter, noted that, “despite the Supreme Court en banc’s much needed statement two months ago, we are concerned that the attacks have only continued, if not worsened to even more alarming forms.”

“Activists and human rights defenders continue to be slapped with trumped-up criminal charges while warrants are being churned out by courts despite the lack of preliminary investigations, and they have facilitated arbitrary arrests and even cold-blooded killings in police operations as the red-tagging, vilification, and profiling of activists, unions, farmers, and even ordinary individuals are alarmingly escalating. Today, we are pressing the Supreme Court to take decisive steps in safeguarding people’s rights amid these rampant and unabated abuses,” Palabay stated.

Along with Palabay, the letter was signed by leaders of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advance of Government Employees, as well as the victims and kin of search and arrest warrant operations and fabricated charges such as Cordillera leaders Windel Bolinget and Beatrice Belen, and relatives of slain fisherfolk leader Ana Marie Evangelista, slain urban poor organizer Melvin Dasigao, detained activist Reina Mae Nasino, and the late peasant leader Joseph Canlas who recently died after catching COVID-19 in jail.

The signatories wrote in the letter submitted before the Supreme Court today that the “attacks against human rights lawyers violate the basic principle that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions” and therefore, “[c]onsequently, their clients, many of whom are activists and progressive organizations like the undersigned, are being deprived of effective access to legal services and adequate protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“Thus, we believe that it is equally important to the Honorable Court to look into the attacks suffered by the clients and to understand the overarching government policies that cause them,” the signatories asserted in their submission which outlined issues faced by activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and ordinary people targeted in the government’s counterinsurgency drive. Attached to the letter are reports on recent search warrant operations, issuance of arrests warrants sans preliminary investigation, red-tagging and the profiling of activists, human rights defenders, unions, farmers, and other sectors.

The signatories further called on the Supreme Court to review the existing rules on the writ of amparo, writ of habeas data, and writ of habeas corpus and to strengthen these protective writs by immediately include a temporary protection order against red-tagging, placing human rights safeguards in the application and implementation of search warrants to prevent the planting of evidence and extrajudicial killings, and safeguards against the filing of trumped-up charges where accused individuals are effectively denied any notice of the charges against them and a preliminary investigation.

“An urgent and decisive action from the Supreme Court is a matter of life and death for activists and human rights defenders especially now when we are being increasingly targeted in the government’s counterinsurgency and counterterror campaign for our work and causes. We strongly hope that our submission compels the high court and the judiciary to take a stronger and firmer stand in defending and safeguarding our rights, freedoms, and lives, and in upholding the rule of law, genuine justice, and democracy in the country,” the Karapatan official concluded.