NUPL asks Teodoro to uphold duties of lawyers

‘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.

Southern Tagalog human rights defenders demand the freedom of two of their colleagues. (NUPL photo)

‘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:

  1. Those arrested, detained and imprisoned are provided opportunities to consult with a lawyer without delay, interception or censorship and in full confidentiality;
  2. Lawyers are allowed to travel and consult with their clients freely and without threats and prosecution;
  3. The military should refrain from filing trumped-up charges of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses against human rights defenders; and
  4. 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)

Gibo’s anti-peace talks stance no surprise to the Left

Newly-appointed national defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro reiterated his position against the peace negotiations with the revolutionary Left who in turn said they are not surprised at all.

Immediately after his re-appointment to the post, Teodoro said he had always been against the peace process with the Left, something he added is also the position of the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration’s security sector.

“My personal position is ‘no’. That has always been my position ever since. And I think that is the position of the security cluster as of this time,” he told reporters last Thursday, June 8.

Appointed by Marcos Jr. as defense secretary for the second time last May 5, Teodoro first occupied the post from 2007 to 2009 under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presidency.

Instead of peace negotiations, Teodoro said armed members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) should instead return to the fold of law.

“We can talk about their issues in the proper forum—the Congress—and they should participate in the legitimate political process. The CPP is legal because Republic Act 1700 (law outlawing the CPP) has been repealed long ago,” Teodoro said in a mix of English and Filipino.

No surprise

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel was quick to rebuke the returning defense chief, saying they are not surprised by Teodoro’s position against the peace talks.

“After all, Teodoro comes from the same ilk of military warmongers who served Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and supported convicted war criminal Jovito Palparan,” NDFP peace panel chairperson Julie de Lima said Friday, June 9.

“Teodoro was one of the main implementors of Oplan Bantay Laya which is one of the bloodiest counterrevolutionary campaigns under the US-Arroyo regime,” de Lima added.

The NDFP said there have been documented human rights abuses under Teodoro and Macapagal-Arroyo, including aerial bombings in Mindanao and various cases of enforced disappearances as part of Oplan Bantay-Laya.

“We reiterate the NDFP’s policy of openness to peace negotiations. But at the same time, we see no signs of the current administration’s willingness to create the necessary conditions for peace talks to continue,” added de Lima.

De Lima said that while the revolutionary movement is always ready to talk peace with the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines), “they will persist in advancing the people’s war to defend the Filipino people against more brutal fascist attacks and US military intervention which [they] expect to intensify with the newly appointed DND chief.”

‘Calling a spade a spade’

The CPP for its part called Teodoro a “United States (US) factotum (servant)” who does not want to pursue peace because his real bosses want wars to continue to consume surplus US military hardware.

 The CPP further alleged that Teodoro, corrupt officials in the Marcos Jr. government and general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) “keep their share of the fat contracts” under such programs as the so-called modernization of the military.

“Thus, it comes as no surprise that the recycled defense secretary declared that he has no plans of pursuing the NDFP-GRP peace negotiations. He is only interested in armed suppression and pacification of the revolutionary forces who represent the people’s profound aspirations for genuine social change,” CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena said.

Valbuena also dismissed Teodoro’s demand for the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA) to stop their armed struggle as “grossly ironic” given the defense chief’s personal history.

The CPP spokesperson recalled Teodoro chaired controversial companies Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) and Indophil Resources Corporation (formerly known as Glencore International) since 2015. Indophils owns 37.5% of SMI.

In September 2022, the local government of Tampakan, South Cotabato revoked SMI’s business permit for alleged fraud and misrepresentation, declaring itself to be a mineral exploration manufacturer but found to be operating as a general engineering contractor.

“So, do we expect him to have any interest in listening to the grievances of peasants and minority people who are being displaced in their hundreds of thousands by the expansion of mining companies? No. Can the people expect him to have any interest in addressing the socioeconomic and political roots of the current civil war in the country? No,” Valbuena said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)