Aetas who filed petition vs anti-terror law were not forced – NUPL, Karapatan
MANILA, Philippines — The Aetas who filed a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act were not forced to do so, progressive groups Karapatan and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) insisted in separate statements on Tuesday.
The two groups issued the statements after the latest hearing of oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act.
They denied the allegation of Solicitor General Jose Calida that the Aetas did not want to sign the petition in the first place.
“The two Aetas were ‘not forced to sign,’” the NUPL said. “In fact, they could not read or write.”
The Aetas, according to the NUPL, “just affixed their thumbmarks” on the necessary documents, including the final draft petition-in-intervention, after it was discussed with them “patiently.”
NUPL lawyers are representing the Aetas — Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos — who were allegedly tortured by military officers during an anti-communist insurgency operation, led by the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division, in San Marcelino, Zambales.
The union said that Ramos willingly affixed his thumbmark in the petition, while Gurung followed suit after discussing the issue with his relatives.
A notary public, the NUPL said, visited the Aetas in jail on Jan. 31 and asked them if the petition had been explained to them before notarizing the document.
During the oral arguments at the Supreme Court, Calida said that the Aetas were withdrawing their petition and were no longer represented by NUPL but by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).
After Calida made the revelation, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta also revealed that the court had unanimously denied the petition.
Karapatan questioned the timing of the alleged withdrawal of the petition.
“Calida’s attempt at dropping a supposedly explosive bombshell during the oral arguments on the petitions against Duterte’s terror law — that the draconian law’s first victims […] have supposedly withdrawn their petition for intervention before the Supreme Court — should raise eyebrows, suspicion, and above all, questions,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general, said.
“Also, why now? The [NUPL] has been representing them ever since the charges were filed against them on September 14, 2020. Is it because the case of Gurung and Ramos and the suffering they endured will inevitably become the centerpoint of the oral arguments on the terror law — such that their case shows concretely the law’s dangers and why it should be junked?” she said.
For its part, the NUPL said it would “formally address in writing” Calida’s manifestation and the court’s denial of the petition.
It said it would first wait for the court resolution denying the petition.
As it happened the two Aetas filed their petition just as the much-anticipated oral argument on the anti-terror law had already been scheduled for Feb. 2.
The petition stirred some controversy when Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade branded as “fake news” the report written about it by INQUIRER.net’s Tetch Torres-Tupas.
Parlade is the chief of the Southern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
Journalists and media groups and journalists — and even lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Representatives — slammed Parlade, pointing out that the report was based on the petition that the Aetas filed before the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, activists and advocates of indigenous people’s rights said that the arrested Aetas were accused of being members of the New People’s Army and that they were tortured and fed with human feces.
The military, including Parlade, denied these claims.
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