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Rights groups slam renewed legal attacks against HRDs

Several rights groups aired strong alarm over the attempt of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon to file a motion for reconsideration on dismissed perjury charges against leaders of rights watchdog Karapatan, women’s party Gabriela, and members of religious group Rural Missionaries of the Philippines — calling it a form of harassment using the judicial framework of the country as a tool.

“What we are seeing is that the judicial harassment of human rights defenders continues,” said Rev. Jonash Joyohoy, executive director of Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD), a faith-based human rights organization of the IFI.

Karapatan general secretary Cristina Palabay, among the respondents in the dismissed perjury case, said that Esperon’s revival of a dismissed case only proved that human rights defenders have faced state-sponsored reprisals in their line of work under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

On Feb. 26, Esperon expressed plans to file a motion for reconsideration on perjury raps he had filed in July 2019 against 12 individuals from groups accused to be “communist fronts.” Respondents include Palabay, Elisa Tita Lubi, Reylan Vergara, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Edita Burgos, Rev. Wilfredo Ruazol, Jose Mari Callueng, Sr. Elenita Belardo, Sr. Emma Cupin, Joms Salvador and Gertrudes Libang. The court had issued a resolution clearing all but one, 80-year-old Sr. Belardo.

Rev. Joyohoy said that the case showed that faith-based human rights defenders have not been spared state reprisal.

“We should be deeply concerned by the vilification campaign against human rights defenders which include church people. There is no point in criminalizing legitimate human rights engagement,” the priest said.

Palabay said the government was “hellbent in its agenda to silence its critics.” She also condemned what she called the judicial harassment of human rights defenders to ultimately discredit their work and legitimacy.

Despite the continuing judicial harassment, Palabay expressed confidence that the renewed complaint would again be dismissed by the court.

“We are more than confident that this baseless motion for reconsideration will be dismissed for the very same reason that his perjury charge against us was thrown down the drain,” Palabay said. “Moreover, we stand firmly with Sr. Elen together with the support of the broad masses. We will not give a second thought in fighting back. We will resist.”

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