The ecumenical group Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) welcomed the dismissal of charges filed against two Protestant bishops and several human rights defenders who helped displaced tribal people in the southern Philippines.
“We are glad to learn that the two counts of child abuse filed against Bishop Hamuel Tequis, Bishop Daniel Palicte, and other human rights defender co-defendants has been dismissed due to lack of evidence,” read a PCPR statement on Wednesday, June 15.
In April 2021, Bishop Tequis and five other individuals were charged of child abuse and exploitation after they took care of sick tribal children who were displaced because of the government’s anti-insurgency operations.
In its decision, the Davao City Regional Trial Court’s Family Court Branch 12 said the prosecution failed to present proof the respondents disregarded the welfare of Lumad children inside the church compound.
“To the Court’s mind, no specific intent to debase, degrade, or demean the subject children’s intrinsic worth as a human being had been convincingly shown other than the situation in the shelter that it is not conducive for living, thereby negating all the accused’s criminal liability under Section 10(a) of R.A. 7610,” the ruling stated.
On June 1, the accused human rights defenders filed a demurrer to evidence, challenging the proof presented by the prosecution. The filing of a demurrer to evidence may result in the dismissal of the cases if the court finds it valid.
In the decision penned by Presiding Judge Dante Baguio, the court said they granted the demurrer as they did not even see any proof from the prosecution that the church administrators and social workers did not attend to the sick children taking shelter in the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City.
“There was even no proof that accused failed to immediately give medical treatment to a sickly child resulting in his death. Evidences of the prosecution even revealed that there were actions taken by the institution or the accused themselves in answering the needs of the Lumads,” read the court ruling.
PCPR, however, said the charges were meant to harass the Church leaders and the human rights defenders, who have been subjected to red-tagging for responding to the needs and safety of the internal refugees.
“Since other cases filed against those involved in the UCCP Haran ministries are similarly fabricated and without basis, we continue to appeal for all cases against these leaders to be expediently dismissed,” read the PCPR statement.
It said that “given the reality that State human rights violations forcibly displaced indigenous communities and sent them toward the city center, the Church must continue to assert our right to religious freedom and in engage the mission task of providing a safe haven to those under threat.”