Cordillera activists seek protection writ from SC over red-tagging

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Cordillera activists seek protection writ from SC over red-tagging
This undated photo shows Cordillera Peoples Alliance chairperson Windel Bolinget, one of 24 petitioner at the Supreme Court seeking a Writ of Amparo in response to being labeled as a sympathizer and recruitrer for the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army.
Facebook / Windel Bolinget

MANILA, Philippines — Cordillera activists have run to the Supreme Court to seek the issuance of a protection writ against perceived danger on their lives, liberty and security that stem from red-tagging of some government agencies such as the police, army and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

Twenty-four petitioners from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and their affiliate organizations, led by Windel Bolinget, Joanna Cariño and Stephen Tauli, have filed a Petition For Review on Certiorari, through the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, on Monday.

The petitioners asked the SC to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals dated Oct. 24, 2022 that dismissed their amended petition for writ of amparo, and the resolution April 11, 2023 denying their motion for reconsideration.

They also asked the tribunal to issue a Writ of Amparo for the protection of petitioners and their family members “against imminent, real and present danger on their lives, liberty and security arising from” acts committed by respondents.

These acts include red-tagging through social media and posters, and community meetings where their members are declared as "recruiters/sympathizers/front organizations" of communist rebels who need to undergo “clearance.”

The following have been tagged as respondents in the petition:

  • Philippine National Police
  • Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee-Cordillera Administrative Region (RLECC-CAR)
  • National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA)
  • Philippine Army
  • Department of the Interior and Local Government-Cordillera Administrative Region

Review of Writ of Amparo rules

According to the plea, their petition before the CA covered acts committed from early 2020 up to 2021 where they were “subjected to vicious branding as ‘communists,’ ‘communist front organization’ and ‘NPA recruiters’ by State forces owing to the work and advocacy they are engaged in among the grassroots in the Cordillera.”

But the CA denied their plea for the issuance of a writ of amparo due to “petitioner’s failure to prove their allegations by substantial evidence.” A portion of the CA ruling, quoted in the plea, said their allegations are “general and vague.”

Arguing before the SC, the petitioners said the appeals court’s finding is not supported by evidence they adduced. “Had the court looked closer and had it conducted a summary hearing as required, it would have appreciated that petitioners’ evidence passed the ‘substantial evidence’ threshold required by the Rule on the Writ of Amparo,” their petition read.

They added: “According to the court, the red tagging posts on Facebook do not constitute a present, imminent or actual threat on the petitioners’ life, liberty or security. If the hateful content do not post a present or actual threat on the petitioners, is the court saying that the content is benign? Is there a yardstick against which any hateful speech can be measured to determine if it constitutes a real threat?”

They told the court that the content of the posts accuse them of committing terrorism, human trafficking and murder. “If the content of the posts is not benign, when can it be said that hateful speech is a real and imminent threat? A civilized society which we claim to have, certainly will not wait for the loss of a life of any or some of the petitioners before concluding that the hateful speech is an imminent and real threat,” they continued.

Human rights alliance Karapatan has backed the filing of the Cordillera activists as they stressed that “it is high time to amend the Supreme Court rules on the writ of amparo, after several attempts to avail of the remedy have left embattled human rights defenders and victims of human rights more vulnerable to threats to their lives, security and liberty, amidst an already bleak state of human rights in the country.”

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay added: “There have been many occasions that the courts dismissed petitions on the writ of amparo of those who have clear threats on their life, security and liberty. This runs counter to the objective of these legal remedies to provide protection for persons who are under threat, and has suffered more than enough harassment, vilification and red-tagging from state security forces.”

The SC, in 2020, said they will review the 2007 Rules on Writ of Amparo. In the following year, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo confirmed this again as he acknowledged the need to adapt to changing times while protecting peoples’ rights.

Other prayers

The petitioners also stressed that government entities making accusations make these contents more believable. Thus, the courts should now “place the breaks on unbridled misuse of power by state forces.”

“As for the troll accounts, the courts have the power to direct the respondents to investigate the acts alleged against them, a relief prayed for in the Amended Petition filed before the Court of Appeals. In the event of refusal, the issuance of a WRIT OF HABEAS DATA is in order,” they added.

The petitioners also prayed for the issuance of a temporary restraining order to enjoin the respondents from publishing, including social media posts, branding and declaring the CPA and their affiliate organizations as “communist-terrorists,” New People’s Army front organizations, NPA recruiters and others of similar content.

They also asked the SC to issue a Writ of Preliminary Injunction directing NTF-ELCAC, PNP and the Philippine Army to take down posts branding petitioners as communist-terrorists or fronts and recruiters of communists rebels as “such content has [no] basis and violates the constitutional rights of the petitioners to be presumed innocent.”

They have also sought the declaration of RLECC Resolution No. 6, which “paved the conduct of house visitations of individuals identified as associated or members of [communist front organizations],” as void for being unconstitutional, and the resolutions and ordinances declaring CPA as persona non grata as void.

They are also requesting the tribunal to direct DILG-CAR to investigate LGUs involved in the issuance of such resolutions and provide these local governments with “appropriate education and information seminar to address this issue.”

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