"Teresita Naul's rights were violated, consider CHR findings," Karapatan tells Bayugan trial court

A year after the arrest of its Regional Council Member Teresita Naul, human rights group Karapatan reiterated the call for her release from prison, saying that her rights were clearly violated by State forces who were engaged in her arrest and in the relentless vilifying attacks thrown against her person.

“It has been a year since a dedicated human rights activist in Northern Mindanao was arbitrarily arrested by State forces while COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed in several parts of the country. We ask the court in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur to dismiss the cases filed against her because clearly, Naul’s rights were violated,” said Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay.

On March 15, 2020, Naul was arrested at a relative’s residence in Lala, Lanao del Sur by 50 State forces from the Regional Office 10 of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. Four days after, she was brought to the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail, but because of the COVID-19 restrictions, her family and lawyers were not able to reach her.

“In hearing the cases, we specifically ask the Bayugan trial court to consider the report of the Commission on Human Rights and the assertions stated by Naul’s counsels from the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao - Cagayan de Oro Chapter to move for the quashal of the complaints lodged against her,” she said.

She is presently facing cases of destructive arson, robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons, and kidnapping and serious illegal detention. These cases arose from a supposed encounter on December 19, 2018 between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the SF Coy Patrol Base of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in New Tubigon, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur. According to reports, the cases from the said incident have at least 468 individuals, including human rights defenders, religious, peasant and indigenous activists, as respondents. State forces wrongly alleged that the legal activists are NPA rebels.

In a resolution dated December 14, 2020, CHR - Region 13 said that Naul’s right to protection of honor and reputation was violated. “We note that tagging people as an NPA without proof is a dangerous assertion. It is a slippery slope as it could spiral to other human rights violations. Most often than not, those who are red tagged were subjected to surveillance and harassment, which are all violations of one’s right to security...Red tagging devalues the well-being of a person. Much worse, if it is perpetrated by agents of the State,” it stated.

“When the attack happened, and in the midst of chaos, we find it improbable that eight complainants can remember and identify these 500 respondents and their respective participation during the attack,” the report added, stating facts that clearly contradict the complainants’ claims. “We also find it odd that Naul who lives and works in Cagayan de Oro, was identified by the eight complainants who were from Agusan del Sur. Her work as NUPL paralegal and partner of IBP Misamis Oriental Chapter in its various legal aid activities made her frequent presence in Agusan del Sur improbable.”

Meanwhile, the motion to quash filed by Naul’s counsels stated that her constitutional rights to due process were denied her.

“Naul lived with the worst fears as the threats of the deadly disease ravaged the Philippines’ congested prisons. As a person who fought for the poor her whole life, she does not deserve to be incarcerated for a year or longer. She is not a criminal. We assert that she did not commit anything illegal and that the charges filed against her are all baseless and fabricated,” said Palabay.

“This government denies Filipinos of the service they deserve while making the lives of those in poor communities even harder by relentlessly attacking those bravely fighting with them. Naul and the hundreds of political prisoners in the country deserve a life that is free from threats and intimidation. The Duterte regime should begin realizing that Filipinos do not deserve a government that persecutes those dissenting voices. It should cease from responding with repression, State terror, and violence,” she said.