Women’s group GABRIELA on Wednesday condemned the revival of the dismissed trumped up perjury case against its two leaders as well as ten others of Karapatan and Rural Missionary of the Philippines filed by National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) Vice-Chair Hermogenes Esperon Jr. before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 37.
In its statement, GABRIELA said the revival of the dismissed case is the “falsification itself.”
“Gen. Esperon’s charge is purely an act of legal retaliation against our organizations for seeking protection through the writs of amparo and habeas data from the grave human rights violations committed against us. Esperon’s perjury case is a retaliatory suit because we demand accountability from the Duterte government for the aggravating systematic repression of rights, red-tagging, and extra-judicial killings,” said GABRIELA.
“We have also been steadfast in calling for regular jobs, just wage, sovereignty, and social justice and the government’s measure is to intimidate us in any way possible, including fabrication of charges,” the group said.
Esperon’s charge is a desperate move to silence them, the group said.
Charged with perjury before a Quezon City metropolitan trial court were Elisa Tita Lubi, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Edita Burgos, Jose Mari Calleung and Wilfredo Ruazol of rights group Karapatan.
Also charged were Joan May Salvador and Gertrudes Libang of Gabriela and Sr. Emma Cupin, a 63-year-old nun who belongs to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP).
Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 139 has set the arraignment and pre-trial or preliminary conference on March 16 at 2 p.m.
Lubi and Palabay are the chairperson and secretary general of Karapatan, respectively, while Salvador is the secretary general of Gabriela. Burgos is the mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos.
Eight of the 10 accused posted an P18,000-bail on Monday. Palabay and Cupin are outside Metro Manila.
The charges stem from the complaint filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., who claimed that the rights activists lied under oath in the writ of amparo petition that Karapatan, Gabriela and RMP filed with the Supreme Court in May last year against him, several government agencies and officials and President Rodrigo Duterte.
The SC referred the petition to the Court of Appeals which dismissed it in July 2019 due to lack of evidence.
Esperon, who also serves as vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), said the activists lied when they claimed that RMP is a duly authorized registered non-stock, non-profit organization when RMP’s certificate of registration had been revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission as early as Sept 29, 2003.
They said their legitimate demands are considered as threats to their status quo. “We demand for jobs, the government tags it as red. We ask for food, the government thinks it seditious. We call for justice, the government deems it subversive. We ask for freedom, the government calls it terrorism,” said GABRIELA.
The group said Esperon’s move is an insidious timing as they prepare for the International Working Women’s Day on March 8, since eight out of the 12 respondents of the case are women, including GABRIELA’s Chairperson Gert Libang and Secretary General Joms Salvador.
“Nevertheless, as Esperon and the rest of the minions of President Rodrigo Duterte aim to gag our voices, we will shout more, we will roar. As Esperon and Duterte want to instill fear, we will display our valor through collective action,” GABRIELA said.
GABRIELA will lead a rally on March 8, along with several other groups, saying “it will be the day of reckoning, when thousands of women will march and ignite the spark of a united stance against a despotic regime.”
“As we gear for the court battle ahead on this perjury case, we vow to exhaust all legal means to assert our rights against repression by the Duterte government and the operation of the NTF-ELCAC as a superbody that threatens the rights and freedoms of the people,” GABRIELA said.
In a Facebook post late Monday, Palabay said she intends to post bail when she returns from Geneva, Switzerland where she is currently doing advocacy work at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council.
“What is lodged as a reprisal suit against us human rights defenders who sought the Supreme Court’s writs of amparo and habeas data for legal protection against threats to our lives, liberties and security is now a full-blown case in court. With this, it seems that, instead of being provided with relief from these attacks by the judicial system, the judicial system itself is being abused as an instrument of our political persecution,” she said.
“This malicious, baseless and utterly absurd perjury charge is yet another proof of the closing civic and democratic space in the Philippines. It is ironic that this case has been revived from its earlier dismissal, amid Karapatan’s continuing advocacy work in the Philippines and at the UN HRC and our persistent efforts to pursue a just and lasting peace,” she added.
But Palabay vowed the charges will not deter her and her fellow-activists from continuing to seek accountability and justice.
“Even with these developments, we remain steadfast and committed, and more defiant than ever to continue the work that we do. While we will address the lies and contortions of Esperon and his hyenas in the NTF-ELCAC in court, we will avail all possible venues for justice and accountability, not only for embattled human rights defenders like ourselves, but more importantly for the poor and oppressed sectors, communities and groups who have been at the receiving end of fascist attacks by this administration,” she said./Stacy Ang