Last October, nine sugarcane workers—including three women and two minors—were killed on October 20 by some 40 unidentified armed men. The Armed Forces of the Philippines linked the killing of the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers members as part of the so-called “Red October” plot, while some reports pointed to private armies and paramilitary groups as perpetrators of the killing.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
NUPL lawyer disputes kidnapping rap for sheltering 'Sagay 9' witness
Kristine Joy Patag ( - May 22, 2019 - 5:58pm

MANILA, Philippines — Rights lawyer Kathy Panguban said a kidnapping complaint against her for taking in a witness in the 'Sagay 9' incident is an attack on her and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.

Panguban filed her counter-affidavit on Wednesday asking the Department of Justice to junk the kidnapping and serious illegal detention complaint filed by the boy’s father, Vic Pedaso.

She also denied the allegation that she kidnapped the witness, who is a minor, in the killing of the nine sugarcane workers in Sagay, Negros Occidental last October. Panguban and NUPL have repeatedly said the boy's mother is their client.

 “Even if taken at face value, the complaint is wanting of any factual allegation on which the imputation of kidnapping and serious illegal detention can be made to stand,” her counter-affidavit read.

In Pedaso's complaint against Panguban, Police Major Robert Mansueto, chief of the Sagay City police, said that father received a call from the mother of his child claiming that they were under tight watch in the area where they were brought after the boy, whom rights group Karapatan and NUPL refer to as “Lester,” was turned over by the city’s Social Welfare and Development Office.

'Boy witness estranged from father'

Panguban added that their fact-finding team learned that Pedaso and the mother of the witness, Flordeliza, were separated since 2008 and had abandoned the child.

The lawyer clarified that Flordeliza sought the assistance of NUPL and Karapatan to for the police to release the child. 

She also said that there was a “formal turnover of [the boy’s] custody” to this mother.

"The said turnover was documented in a Turn Over Agreement prepared by the [City Social Welfare and Development] and signed by the following: Flordeliza J. Cabahug, Biological Mother; Vic Elisan Pedaso, Biological Father; Nehemiah Harold D. Mission, Social Welfare Officer I; Consolacion C. Espinosa, CGDHI; and myself, Legal Counsel,” the counter-affidavit read.

Panguban also stressed that the mother of the minor said in her sworn statement that she and her son willingly went with NUPL, Karapatan and the fact-finding team “because she knew that they would be safe with us.”

An attack vs NUPL

Panguban also said that the complaint against her is an attack on her profession and on the NUPL.

“And since this complaint stemmed from the lawful exercise of my profession as a lawyer which materializes under a climate of red-tagging and vilification of human rights lawyers and defenders, with due respect, I am venturing to characterize the filing of this case as a veiled attack against the legal profession and against the organization that I represent, the NUPL,” Panguban added.

The NUPL sought, and was granted, relief from the Supreme Court on perceived state-sponsored red-tagging. They said that their rights to life, liberty and security have been violated by "persistent threats and harassment, and red-tagging," preventing them from carrying out their profession as members of the bar.

Philippine jurisprudence defines red-tagging as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy... by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State.’”

The SC issued a writ of amparo for the pro bono lawyers and ordered the Court of Appeals to hear their petition.

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