‘Anti-terror charges vs rights defenders alarming’
Human rights lawyers asked national defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro, himself an attorney, to uphold their duties as counsels to their clients.
In a hand-delivered letter in front of Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City Friday, July 7, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) urged Teodoro to respect the United Nations Basic Principles of on the Role of Lawyers in the context of protecting the human rights of their clients as well as promoting justice.
The five-page letter is accompanied by a separate letter by Nieves Lizada, mother of human rights defender Mary Joyce who is detained at the Philippine Army’s (PA) Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.
The letters were handed out to a representative of the Office of the National Defense Secretary.
The event was accompanied by a protest action by human rights workers from Southern Tagalog and Metro Manila.
‘No rule of law’
The NUPL cited the case of Mary Joyce and Arnuldo Aumentado who are being denied access to their lawyers; the case of sugar farm workers Alfred Manalo, Lloyd Descalar and Angelito Balitostos who were abducted by government soldiers; and Southern Tagalog (ST) youth rights defenders Kenneth Rementilla, Jasmin Yvette Rubia, and Halley Pecayo who were harassed and red-tagged by the PA.
Called the Mansalay 2, Mary Joyce and Aumentado were investigating the shelling of a Mangyan community in Oriental Mindoro province when arrested by the PA last April 25.
Despite two previous consultations with their lawyers on June 3 and June 28 in Camp Capinpin, the two have since been denied time with their counsels and have yet to be taken to a civilian jail even after indictment from a regional trial court.
In their letter, the NUPL also complained of the harassment of their members from the Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA) who responded to requests for assistance for sugar farm workers Manalo, Descalar and Balitostos, also called the Balayan 3.
A certain Lt.Col. Ernesto Teneza filed a complaint against the SENTRA lawyers at the Commission on Human Rights IV-A office despite being responsible for blocking the lawyers’ access to the farm workers.
The NUPL also said the ST youth rights defenders were harassed on two special occasions in the PA’s efforts to prevent them from investigating the killing of 9-year old Kyllene Casao by soldiers of the PA’s 59th Infantry Battalion.
‘As alter ego of the Commander in chief’
In their letter, the NUPL called on Teodoro to exercise his supervision over the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as well as the following demands:
- Those arrested, detained and imprisoned are provided opportunities to consult with a lawyer without delay, interception or censorship and in full confidentiality;
- Lawyers are allowed to travel and consult with their clients freely and without threats and prosecution;
- The military should refrain from filing trumped-up charges of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses against human rights defenders; and
- Officers and commanders of the 2nd Infantry Division and the 4th and 59th IBs be investigated for possible liabilities in the incidents mentioned.
“We hope that you will take these calls as a challenged to balance your tasks of guarding the country against security threats with the imperative of fulfilling the Philippine government’s obligations to respect human rights and international humanitarian law,” the NUPL wrote.
The lawyers’ group said 13 Anti-Terrorism Law charges have been filed against rights defenders and other civilians throughout the region.
In her own letter, Lizada asked Teodoro to immediately free Mary Joyce or be transferred without delay to a civilian jail.
There was no immediate response to the letters from Teodoro’s office. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)