Rights defenders ask Court to dismiss Esperon’s bid to overturn acquittal

Human rights defenders asked the Quezon city Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) to dismiss a petition seeking a review of a lower court’s decision acquitting them of charges of perjury.

In their joint comment submitted last Thursday, July 20, six rights activists said National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.’s petition should be dismissed and their acquittal last January be upheld by the court.

Karapatan National Council members Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Dr. Edita Burgos, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol and Jose Mari Callueng also said Esperon’s bid to overturn their acquittal is renewed judicial harassment and an attack on the independence of judges.

In his petition, Esperon Jr. assailed the January 2023 decision of Quezon City Municipal Trial Court Judge Aimee Marie Alcera acquitting the human rights defenders and their colleagues, Karapatan chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi, former Rural Missionaries of the Philippines coordinator Sr. Elenita Belardo, and Gabriela leaders Gert Libang and Joan May Salvador.

Karapatan said the perjury charges filed against them in 2019 is Esperon Jr.’ retaliation after he was named a respondent in their petition for a writ of amparo due to growing threats and attacks against human rights defenders.

After the acquittal, Esperon charged Judge Alcera of “grave abuse of discretion” and asked the QC RTC to review the records of the case.

Esperon’s petition is now pending before the court’s Branch 84 under Judge Luisito Galvez Cortez.

In their prayer for final dismissal, the Karapatan officers said it would be a grave injustice and a violation of their rights against double jeopardy (or being tried twice for the same crime) if the State is allowed to make attempts to overturn their acquittal by the court.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay denounced Esperon’s reopening of the perjury case as “but one in a series of renewed attacks against the human rights defenders of Karapatan.”

“As embattled human rights defenders, we call for solidarity from the broad human rights community here and abroad. We likewise appeal for support for judges 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,” Palabay said.

The QC RTC court has scheduled a hearing on August 29, 2023 regarding Esperon’s petition for certiorari. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)