Quezon City court clears 10 rights activists of perjury

Quezon City court clears 10 rights activists of perjury
Human rights activists pose for a photo after a Quezon City court cleared them of perjury on Monday, January 9, 2023.

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:17 p.m.) — A Quezon City court acquitted Monday 10 human rights activists of perjury as it scrapped the charge initiated by former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. who accused them of lying when they sought protection from the Supreme Court.

Those acquitted "on the ground of reasonable doubt" by the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 139 of perjury were:

  • Rural Missionaries of the Philippines national coordinator Sr. Elenita Belardo
  • Karapatan chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi
  • Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay
  • Gabriela secretary general Joan May Salvador
  • Ronel Clamor
  • Gabriela Krista Dalena
  • Edita Burgos
  • Jose Mari Callueng
  • Wilfredo Ruazol
  • Gertrudes Libang

The case stems from Esperon’s 2019 complaint which claimed that leaders from Karapatan, Gabriela and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines lied in their petition for writ of amparo before the Supreme Court.

Esperon — who was a respondent in the amparo petition that was initially granted by the SC but junked when it was sent to the Court of Appeals — accused the activists of calling RMP a “registered non-stock, non-profit organization” in their plea, when he said that the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked its certificate of registration in 2003.

Initially, the Quezon City prosecutor’s office only indicted Belardo — an 80-year-old nun from RMP — but after an appeal by Esperon, it included all 10 activists in the charge.

Palabay and rights group Karapatan celebrated the acquittal of their years-long case. She noted that the charges were only filed to disrupt the work they have been doing on ground.

The case is the third where Esperon's words and pleadings have been dismissed by courts, including when the Quezon City court affirmed its decision to stop blocking access to websites the former public servant had requested to block on unfounded claims that those were owned by or have links to "terrorist" groups.

"The numerous legal offensives churned out by Esperon and the legal cluster of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which includes this malicious perjury case, should, once and for all, cease upon the abolition of this dangerous government body," Palabay said, adding that hundreds of rights defenders remain in jail because of similar malicious charges.

Karapatan also vowed to hold perpatrators, who use the law against its own people, into account through both domestic and international human rights mechanisms. 

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Right Defenders Mary Lawlor previously called on Philippine authorities to dismiss the perjury charge against the actvists as she raised concerns that this is "a form of retaliation for the human rights activities" of groups like Karapatan.

In a statement released before the Quezon City court handed out its verdict, the Makabayan bloc said the characterization of RMP as a "registered non-stock, non-profit organization" by the activists was "due to a simple misunderstanding or flaw in government bureaucracy."

"The filing of this perjury case against the human rights defenders is a clear act of retaliation and further harassment by the Duterte government and should be dismissed," it said. 

"Let the court prove that justice in the Philippines is not just for the rich and the powerful but for everyone who are defending the people's rights." — Xave Gregorio

This is a developing story. Refresh this page for updates.

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