Rights, religious, women’s groups seek protection vs govt red tagging

By Visayas Today

The human rights group Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, and women’s organization Gabriela have filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to issue writs of amparo and habeas data against their continued vilification by President Rodrigo Duterte and officials of the government and security forces.

The petition, filed Monday, May 6, with the help fo the National Union of People’s Lawyers, “is a response to the worsening attacks, terrorist-tagging by the Philippine military and the ongoing smear campaign against human rights defenders,” Karapatan chair Elisa Tita Lubi said in a statement.

It names Duterte, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, General Benjamin Madrigal Jr., Brigadier General Fernando Trinidad, Major General Erwin Bernard Neri, Lieutenant General Macairog Alberto, Major General Antonio Parlade Jr., Alex Paul Monteagudo, Vicente Agdamag, Senior Superintendent Omega Jireh Fidel, and Undersecretaries Joel Sy Egco, Severo Catura and Lorraine Marie Badoy.

The petition sought the high court’s protection for the petitioners “who are constantly threatened and harassed, red-tagged and maliciously terrorist-labeled only because of their advocacies in various fields of human rights work” and to order the respondents to “produce and, if necessary, to update and rectify, or to suppress and destroy, data, information, and files in their possession, under their control, or contained in their data base that relate to or which concern (the) petitioners.”

It cited six speeches in which Duterte himself accused Karapatan of being a “communist front.”

Karapatan pointed out that, from 2001 to 2019, 48 of its human rights workers have been killed. These include three under the Duterte administration.

The three are Elisa Badayos, Karapatan Negros Oriental coordinator, who was killed on November 28, 2017 by motorcycle-riding gunmen along with peasant leader Eleuterio Moises while they were with a fact-finding mission; Mariam Uy Acob, a paralegal of Karapatan member-organization Kawagib Moro Human Rights Alliance, who was shot dead by two gunmen while riding a motorcycle home on September 23, 2018; and Bernardino Patigas, councilor of Escalante City, Negros Occidental and a founder and former officer of the North Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, who was murdered on April 22 this year.

“Human rights advocacy is not a crime, yet human rights workers are being killed, threatened, harassed, and jailed on trumped up charges,” Lubi stressed, noting that Duterte and his officials’ “dangerous rhetoric,” accusing Karapatan of being a rebel “front,” has led to murder and other abuses against human rights workers.

“Most, if not all, of our human rights workers, even our former colleagues, are subjected to threats, surveillance, harassment, red-tagging, and judicial harassment,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“These attacks can only come from those who see our work and advocacy for people’s rights, our monitoring and documentation of human rights violations, our direct assistance to victims and kin, and our provision of platforms for human rights education as threats to the current status quo. Human rights defense and activism is not a crime; it is a right protected by international covenants and agreements as well as the Philippine Constitution,” she added.

The petition said the Duterte and his officials have persisted with their vilification of activist groups despite concerns raised by United Nations special rapporteurs, particularly “over the impression that such alleged statements, which distort the public narrative on human rights defenders and conflate their work with threats to national security, may have on the public and civil society, especially when delivered by the Head of State.”

In fact, the government went so far as to send a delegation to Europe where they accused several activist organizations, including schools for indigenous people in Mindanao, of being communist fronts.

Reacting to these, a number of Belgian NGOs spoke up in defense of their vilified partner-organizations. #