Pastors, lay leader accused of being rebels seek Supreme Court protection

Pastors, lay leader accused of being rebels seek Supreme Court protection
This file photo shows the seal of the Supreme Court.
Philstar.com / EC Toledo

MANILA, Philippines — Two pastors and a lay leader of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines are asking the Supreme Court for protection, saying they fear for their life after troops of the 59th Infantry Battalion in Quezon and Batangas labeled them as supporters of communist rebels.

Pastors Edwin and Julieta Egar and lay leader Ronald Ramos said officers and enlisted men of the 59th IB have accused them "despite the utter lack of evidence, to be giving aid to communist insurgents" for their work with marginalized communities in the southern Tagalog region. 

"Now, the Petitioners are living in fear wondering whether tomorrow will be their last," petitioners, who said they have been subjected to military surveillance and have been receiving threatening text messages, said.

"They have also yet to be able to return to their homes for fear that instead of presiding in a safe haven, they would be endangering themselves more by being open targets for the Respondents officers and enlisted personnel of the 59th IB."

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In a 62-page petition, Ramos and Edgar Egar recounted how they were approached on October 31 by men who were introduced as personnel of the 59th IB. Petitioners said the men accused them of being members of the New People's Army and tried to convince them to surrender to the government.

Another attempt to convince them to surrender was made on November 1.

Ramos said he also received text messages "telling him...that there was a malicious plan to plant evidence in his house to make it appear that he possessed firearms and explosives." He said he was also told that there was a plan to kill him in a staged shootout.

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In the same petition, Julieta Egar said she had noticed strange men following her, including one who, on November 19 "kept on following her, and when she alighted at Alupay, the man even pretended to be selling buko pie." 

"She asked around, and was told that nobody knew that man, that he is not usually there; and that nobody really sold buko pie in that location," the petition also reads.

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Listed as respondents in the petition for Writ of Amparo are 59th IB commander Lt. Col. Ernesto Teneza Jr. and enlisted men of the batallion. Also named respondents were Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro — armed forces chief — and Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. — commanding general of the Philippine Army — as well as Maj. Gen. Roberto Capulong.

"The Petition for the Writ of Amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity," lawyer Gilbert Andres, who assisted with the filing, said in a media advisory.

The government has denied that "red-tagging" — the labeling activists, journalists and rights defenders of support for and allegiance to communist rebels — is a policy despite it being a practiced by police and military units and some government agencies.

Rights groups, including the Commission on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Office, have warned that the practice is dangerous and has been increasingly institutionalized in the Philippines.

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