Urgent appeal for action to dismiss trumped up and malicious charges against Filipino human rights defenders

Dear friends and colleagues,

Human rights defenders in the Philippines, including human rights workers of Karapatan, are being increasingly being targeted by the Duterte administration in its worsening crackdown on dissent. The attacks on human rights defenders have ranged from threats through public vilification and red-tagging, and these often prelude police raids on their homes and offices, judicial harassment and arrests on trumped-up criminal charges, or worse, violence and extrajudicial killings.

The attempted murder charge against Karapatan chairperson Elisa “Tita” Lubi and Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region Jayvee Apiag and the arrest of Karapatan - Caraga paralegal Renalyn Tejero are merely the latest in series of attacks against human rights workers from Karapatan. President Rodrigo Duterte’s public pronouncements openly inciting violence, the weaponization of the law and the courts, and his outright demonization of human rights groups such as Karapatan, in particular, have made us targets of such attacks — and many of our human rights workers have either been killed, behind bars, or are now facing these utterly absurd charges which are clearly meant to discredit us and silence us from doing our work.

Elisa ‘Tita” Lubi and Jayvee “Jay” Apiag are currently facing an attempted murder charge filed by Corporal Elvin Jay Claud regarding an alleged May 20, 2018 armed encounter between elements of the New People’s Army and the Philippine Army’s 89th Infantry Battalion and 10th Infantry Division in Sitio Balite, Brgy. Salapawan, Paquibato District, Davao City. The case was only filed on June 3, 2020 — two years after the alleged encounter. Based on Claud’s sworn statement, the incident occurred at 6:20 p.m. as his unit was already conducting a combat operation but were supposedly ambushed allegedly by an “undetermined number of communist terrorist armed groups.” While taking cover and exchanging fire with alleged rebels, Claud supposedly was able to identify with certainty Lubi and Apiag along with three other individuals implicated in the attempted murder charge.

We denounce in strongest term this malicious attempted murder charge against Lubi and Apiag, especially because it is clearly bereft of any factual basis. It is baseless and pure hogwash. In Apiag’s joint motion with Cristony Jun Monzon, secretary general of indigenous people’s confederation Pasaka, filed on March 12 before the Davao City Regional Trial Court Branch 52, he manifested that, at the time of the alleged encounter, he was interviewing the kin of Ariel Maquiran at Brgy. Madaum, Tagum City, Davao del Norte. Maquiran is an industrial worker in a banana plantation who was shot dead by suspected agents of the Philippine Army’s 16th Infantry Battalion on May 17, 2018.

Meanwhile, Lubi manifested in her motion filed before the same court on Monday, March 29, that she was in Metro Manila during the date of the encounter and that “there is an abundance of evidence showing [her] presence in Metro Manila in the days, weeks and months preceding and following the alleged incident.” The motion also stated that “[i]t is physically implausible for [her] to engage in an armed combat” for she was “75 turning 76 years old, and suffering from the usual conditions ailing people of such advanced age” such as being overweight, hypertension, and arthritis.

Both of them were likewise denied of their right to due process, as they did not receive copies of subpoenas to participate in the preliminary investigation on the case to assert their innocence and avail of appropriate remedies for the case’s dismissal.

Elisa ‘Tita” Lubi, 79, studied at the University of the Philippines Diliman and worked as a young executive in an American company, and has been an activist since Marcos’ martial law. She was arrested and imprisoned twice during martial law and in 1988 under Pres. Corazon Aquino, when she suffered psychological torture and sexual molestation. After her release from prison, she worked with GABRIELA and then with Gabriela Women’s Party as its founding National National Vice Chairperson. She was a governance member and former interim Regional Coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), a regional feminist platform. She was also a former National Board member of the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), an organization of former political prisoners, and campaigned for the enactment and implementation of the Human Rights Victims Indemnification Law. In 2018, she was elected as Karapatan’s National Chairperson.

Jayvee “Jay” Apiag, 33, studied nursing in college and was a campus journalist of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines in North Cotabato. He worked as a paralegal of Kawagib Moro Human Rights Organisation in Cotabato City from 2008 to 2011 and became Karapatan - North Cotabato coordinator in 2012. In 2016, he became Karapatan Southern Mindanao’s spokesperson and was elected as Secretary General of the regional chapter since 2017.

At 5 a.m. on March 21, 2021, Renalyn Tejero was roused from her sleep in Aries Bldg., Brgy. Lapasan, Cagayan de Oro City when four elements of the Philippine National Police and Philippine Army wearing bullet proof vests entered the apartment where she was staying. They knocked on the room where she was sleeping, turned on the lights and identified her. They took her phone when she insisted on her right to contact a lawyer or her family, and then she was handcuffed. She was shown a warrant but she was only able to read the words “homicide” and “RTC 34, Cabadbaran.”

Tejero was then brought to a red car without plates and then to the Lapasan Police Station. After a while, she was boarded on another vehicle and was brought to the Philippine National Police Regional Office 13 Headquarters at Camp Colonel Rafael Rodriguez in Butuan City, where she arrived at 10:05 a.m. She reiterated her right to contact a lawyer or her family, but was once again denied.

At 12 noon on the same day, a cop who introduced herself as someone from the “women’s desk” talked to Renalyn and asked her about some individuals. At 1 p.m., a man, allegedly from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), subjected her to interrogation. She was told that she was lucky that those from PRO13 were the ones who arrested her, because she might have ended up killed. The man called up Capt. Aranas of the 9th Special Forces Company, 3rd Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army, who told Renalyn that she should surrender. The man from OPAPP then told Renalyn they have been “working” on her for a long time. Renalyn answered a few questions in relation to her work as a paralegal and that she would not “surrender” because she didn’t commit any offense. The man from OPAPP interrogated her for two hours. At around 3 p.m., the cop from the women’s desk came back to interrogate her. At 9 p.m., she was brought to the Butuan Medical Center and at 11 p.m., she was brought to Butuan Police Station 1.

According to the Philippine National Police, Tejero is facing murder and attempted murder charges. In the court documents on the cases against Karapatan human rights worker Renalyn Tejero, four soldiers of the 12th Scout Ranger Company of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion of the Philippine Army said that they were able to identify all suspects, presumably including Tejero, in the alleged murder of Cpl. Marion Suson, in an encounter with supposed New People’s Army members on November 19, 2019 because they are “the same pictures of faces at the O(r)der of Battle listed of the 4th Infantry Division, Intelligence Section, Philippine Army.” The affidavits of the four soldiers were the bases of the trumped up murder charges against Tejero at the Regional Trial Court in Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte, aside from the attempted murder charges filed at the Regional Trial Court Branch 28 of Lianga, Surigao de Sur.

Karapatan asserts that the Philippine Army’s drawing up of order of battle lists, which includes pictures of human rights defenders like Renalyn Tejero, to target activists is a clear indication of the existence of the State policy of political persecution of its perceived enemies. These lists as well as the so-called ‘rouge galleries’ of the Philippine National Police which includes names and pictures of activists are arbitrarily drawn up by these authorities, without the benefit of due process accorded the individuals concerned. It is no different from the tarpaulins, posters, flyers and other materials red-tagging individuals and groups.

Karapatan finds the allegations of the soldiers incredible, witless and illogical. For soldiers to ascertain, without doubt, the faces and names of nearly 30 to more than a hundred alleged rebels is simply unbelievable. For Renalyn to be impleaded in these hogwash cases is a clear reprisal for her work as a paralegal and human rights defender. The stories in the affidavits are likewise riddled with copy-pasted stories. Tejero has been denied of her right to due process because she has never known about these charges against her.

Renalyn Tejero, 25, is a young Lumad-Manobo indigenous activist who graduated from the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) in 2013. She successfully passed the Department of Education’s placement exam and went on to take a bachelor’s degree in Sociology at the Caraga State University (CSU) as a full scholar of the Enfants du Mekong Foundation. At the CSU, she became the chairperson of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines – CSU Chapter and was elected senator of the CSU student council. Upon her graduation in 2018, she became a full-time human rights worker and later, paralegal, for Karapatan – Caraga.

Lubi, Apiag and Tejero are human rights workers. They are not combatants, and they are certainly not criminals nor terrorists — and many human rights workers like them are facing constant red-tagging and trumped-up charges from perjured and fabricated testimonies and even planted evidence supposedly seized during police raids on their offices.

Among the Karapatan human rights workers facing judicial harassment are:

  • Lubi, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Dr. Edita Burgos, Fr. Eduardo Ruazol, and Jose Mari Callueng in the perjury case filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. in retaliation to our petitions for the writs of amparo and habeas data;
  • National Council member Daisy “Jacky” Valencia of Cagayan Valley, who together with indigenous people’s leader Windel Bolinget, Bayan leader Lutgardo “Boyette” Jurcales Jr., peasant leader Reynaldo Gameng and Makabayan coordinator Agnes Mesina, are facing fabricated murder charges;
  • National Council member Teresita Naul of Northern Mindanao, 62, who is currently detained at the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail on trumped up charges of kidnapping, destructive arson and serious illegal detention. Naul suffers from asthma and bronchitis;
  • National Council member Philip Abinguna of Eastern Visayas, who is currently detained at the Palo, Leyte police station together with journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and development worker Mariel Domequil from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines on fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives; and
  • Nimfa Lanzanas, 61, Karapatan-Southern Tagalog paralegal who was arrested during the March 7, 2021 Bloody Sunday police and military raids in the region and wrongly charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Lanzanas has anemia and hypertension.

 

We call on all our allies, communities, fellow human rights advocates, and all freedom-loving Filipinos and the international community to support Lubi, Apiag and Tejero, along with all the embattled human rights workers of Karapatan and Filipino activists, to stand with us against judicial harassment and the persecution of human rights defenders and authoritarian rule in the Philippines.


You can view the PDF copy of the urgent appeal below. You can also download it through this link.