In 2019, various human rights groups asked the Supreme Court for protection against red-tagging by the Philippine government.
Some of these groups included Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), Gabriela, and Karapatan. The petitioners also included Elisa Tita Lubi.
At the time of filing, they emphasized government harassment as three human rights workers were killed, RMP was accused of ‘radicalizing’ children in rural areas by Philippine Army Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., and Tita Lubi has been included in the proposed terrorist list by the DOJ.
In the same year, Hermogenes Esperon Jr., National Security Adviser at the time, responded by filing a perjury complaint against human rights defenders from these three groups.
He accused them of making false claims against the government.
He also asserted that while the group claimed that RMP is a registered non-stock, non-profit organization, RMP’s registration has expired.
Moreover, Esperon also mentioned that these cause-oriented organizations have convinced foreign funding institutions to give grants that were diverted to the CPP/NPA/NDF.
This perjury case and accusations from Esperon only prove why these groups and individuals need protection against red-tagging and government intimidation.
As most know, red-tagging has cost many lives—mostly of people who have dedicated themselves to helping the marginalized.
Only days before the complaint from Esperon, the Court of Appeals also denied these groups’ request of protection from the military.
The Court of Appeals claimed, “There is no evidence of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, malicious prosecutions and defamations…for these reasons, the petition is denied.”
The groups’ request for protection was denied. Meanwhile, Esperon’s perjury complaint regarding RMP’s revoked registration went on for more than three years.
Just a few days ago, the Quezon City court finally acquitted the 10 human rights activists included in the perjury case.
According to the court, the prosecution failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that “all accused made a willful and deliberate assertion of a falsehood.”
While this was an undeniable victory that they were finally cleared, it took three years for it to be resolved, even being revived after an earlier dismissal.
More so, this case should have never been filed at all.
This case is only concrete proof as to why these activists requested protection, as to how government officials tend to harass activists.
Cristina Palabay, one of the acquitted, even mentioned that this was the third time that Esperon’s claims were dismissed.
First is the Hilongos case where peace consultants faced multiple murder charges due to the Hilongos “mass graves” recovered in Inopacan, Leyte in 2006.
This was dismissed in 2021.
Second is Bulatlat’s case. The Quezon City court dismissed a government appeal to set aside the ruling that unblocked Bulatlat’s website.
According to the court, this was a violation of the organization’s freedom of speech and the press.
This also started with Esperon’s order for NTC to block alternative news websites including Bulatlat.
Third is this perjury case which started in 2019 and has finally been concluded in 2023.
These are victories showing how courage, hope, truth, and justice can prevail.
However, let us not forget that these are also blatant attacks from Esperon against activists who respond to marginalized sectors.
Undoubtedly, Esperon must be made accountable for his malicious and dangerous actions. The act of red-tagging must be taken seriously and we must hold accountable those who continue to do this.
In fact, this case and similar ones should never have been entertained by the Courts.
As these are strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), they should have been immediately dismissed.
According to an anti-SLAPP website (https://anti-slapp.org/what-is-a-slapp), SLAPPs chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest.
They are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend these baseless suits.
SLAPP filers, like red taggers, don’t go to court to seek justice but seek to intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial and other resources.
Unfortunately the attacks against human rights defenders continue.
We saw this happening again in Cebu these past few days with the abduction of Dyan Gumanao, coordinator for Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Cebu (ACT Cebu); and Armand Dayoha, volunteer worker for the Alliance of Health Workers-Cebu (AHW-Cebu).
I knew Dyan, a student leader and honor student when she was in University of the Philippines in Cebu. Dyan is the best of the best of young Filipinos. I am sure that Armand, a visual artist, is equally good as a person.
Both were reported missing by their families and a campaign to have them released and surfaced was conducted over the weekend, which fortunately succeeded.
The story of Dyan and Armand ended well but others will not be too lucky in the future until the attacks against human rights defenders are finally stopped.
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