SC extends legal protection to Red-tagged groups
The Supreme Court has issued writs of amparo and habeas data sought by Karapatan, Gabriela and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which have complained about government harassment, threats, Red-tagging and other forms of attacks on their members.
Through a notice released on Thursday by Clerk of Court Edgar Aricheta, the high tribunal resolved to issue the writs and refer the petition to the Court of Appeals so it could conduct hearings starting June 10 and resolve the case on the merits within 10 days after the case was deemed submitted for resolution.
Karapatan, Gabriela and the Rural Missionaries filed their petition on May 6.
Right to life, privacy
The writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security has been violated or under threat.
The writ of habeas data is a remedy available to anyone whose right to privacy, liberty or security has been violated or under threat by the unlawful gathering of information about them, their family and home.
Both play preventive and curative roles in curbing extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations, according to the Supreme Court.
The petitioners named as respondents President Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., AFP deputy commander for intelligence Brig. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, chief of the AFP intelligence service Maj. Gen. Erwin Neri and Lt. Gen. Macairog Sabiniano Alberto, Philippine Army chief.
Director General Alex Paul Monteagudo of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica), Nica Deputy Director General Vicente Agdamag; Senior Supt. Omega Jireh Fidel, chief of the Philippine National Police directorate for investigation and detective management; Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., AFP deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations;
Executive Director Joel Sy Egco of the Presidential Task Force on media security, Undersecretary Severo Catura of the Presidential Human Rights Committee and Undersecretary for new media and external affairs Lorraine Badoy of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.
The Supreme Court required them to comment on the petition before the Court of Appeals on or before June 13.
Leaders and members of Karapatan, Gabriela and Rural Missionaries earlier claimed that their rights to life, liberty and security had been violated or threatened after they were described as fronts or allies of communist rebels by military, police and other government officials.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, through Parlade, has been outspoken in criticizing activist groups with supposed ties to communist insurgents.
Karapatan cited various incidents of attacks against its human rights workers, including alleged trumped-up charges implicating the group’s national chair, Elisa Tita Lubi, and death threats sent to secretary general Cristina Palabay.
It also cited posters and banners maligning the organization and its officers, including its vice chair, Reylan Vergara, and displayed in public places; pronouncements of military officials referring to Karapatan as a communist front; and public speeches Red-tagging the rights group by no less than President Duterte.
Karapatan said 58 of its human rights workers had been victims of extrajudicial killings, seven of whom were killed under the Duterte administration. They include Elisa Badayos, coordinator of Karapatan-Central Visayas; Mariam Acob, paralegal of Kawagib Moro Human Rights Alliance; lawyer Benjamin Ramos and Bernardino Patigas, both of Karapatan-Negros.
In a statement, Lubi welcomed the high court’s ruling, saying: “There has been no respite in the military and the government’s attacks against our organization and other human rights defenders and activists, but this is a much welcome development.”
She noted that the Duterte administration had poured effort, resources and time into undermining Karapatan’s work.
Activism not a crime
“[B]ut unfortunately for them, we will always assert our right to continue human rights advocacy. As they attack us from all fronts, we fight back in the same persistent and determined manner,” Lubi said.
Palabay said “unbridled” lies and Red-tagging against Karapatan members were “meant to incite violence against human rights defenders, demoralize and discourage us from our work, and discredit organizations that expose and bring forward cases of human rights violations.”
She said the favorable Supreme Court decision came at a crucial time.
“The court has seen the merit of our petition, and we see this as an acknowledgment of the perilous environment that human rights defenders work in,” Palabay said. “We reiterate that activism and the full exercise of our civil and political rights is not a crime.”
“To the respondents, see you in court,” she said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in a statement, said the issuance of the writ was not yet final pending the Court of Appeals ruling, which the Supreme Court may later affirm, reverse or modify.
“That’s SOP (standard operating procedure). It’s simply an order to comment. It doesn’t rule on the merits of the petition as yet,” Guevarra replied when asked about the high court’s order to the respondents to return the writ.
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