Human rights group Karapatan has condemned what it described as “renewed judicial harassment” against rights defenders and the alleged attacks on court officials’ integrity.
“It is not only the human rights defenders themselves who are under attack, but also the judges who have demonstrated their integrity and independence by issuing judgments that impact on human rights defenders, and lawyers who have extended legal services to activists, political dissenters and human rights defenders facing cases in court,” the group said.
The group made the statement after the former National Security Adviser, Hermogenes Esperon Jr., filed a petition for certiorari challenging the perjury case he had previously filed against leaders of Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and the women’s rights group Gabriela.
Karapatan claims that Esperon is contesting the decision made by Judge Aimee Marie Alcera of the Quezon City Municipal Trial Court.
The judge had acquitted several individuals, including Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Dr. Edita Burgos, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol, and Jose Mari Callueng, along with Karapatan’s chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi, former RMP coordinator Sr. Elenita Belardo, and Gabriela leaders Gert Libang and Joan May Salvador. The charges of perjury were the subject of the court case in question.
Esperon charged Alcera of grave abuse of discretion, and asked the Regional Trial Court to review the records of the case.
On July 20, Karapatan asked the court to dismiss Esperon’s petition and to uphold Alcera’s decision of acquitting the human rights defenders of perjury.
Palabay denounced Esperon’s reopening of the perjury case saying this is “but one in a series of renewed attacks against the human rights defenders of Karapatan.”
Palabay cited the filing of indirect contempt charges by lawyer Fedinand Topacio against her and eight others after criticizing the Muntinlupa court’s decision of denying bail to former Sen. Leila de Lima.
“The case is a direct attack on our freedom of expression,” said Palabay.
The situation has drawn attention to the importance of safeguarding the rights and protection of those who work to defend human rights, ensuring that they can carry out their crucial roles without fear of undue repercussions.
In a statement, Palabay said Karapatan legal counsel Maria Sol Taule and herself “have been viciously red-tagged and suffer other forms of threats and harassment, particularly from Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) which is owned by rabid Marcos Jr. and Duterte supporter Apollo Quiboloy.”
Palabay appealed for support for judges like Alcera as well as Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing Ignacio and Manila RTC Branch 19 Presiding Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar, “who have shown courage, independence and integrity in issuing their judgments, especially at a time when the law is increasingly being weaponized to harass and persecute us.”
“As embattled human rights defenders, we call for solidarity from the broad human rights community here and abroad,” Palabay added.