Military hubris at play in envi activists’ case

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

They’re still at it. Intent on getting even with the two young women who had publicly exposed their lies, militarists in the armed forces are now questioning why the Supreme Court has ordered their protection.

To recall, the two activists, Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, both in their early 20s, were kidnapped and held in secret custody for 17 days in September last year. Presented at a press conference purportedly to announce that they had surrendered, the two instead accused the military of abducting them. Taken by surprise, the authorities were shocked into releasing them pronto.

Tamano and Castro, fearful for their security and safety due to perceived surveillance by their previous captors, then went to the Supreme Court.

In an en banc (full court) decision last Feb. 15, the Supreme Court granted their petition. It issued in their favor three means of judicial protection: a writ of amparo, a writ of habeas data, plus a temporary protection order (TPO).

However, the NTF-ELCAC (the government’s controversial counterinsurgency arm) was undeterred. Through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), they filed an urgent motion before the SC questioning the three issuances. They also want the TPO to be rescinded because a municipal court in Bulacan, they claimed, had earlier ordered the arrest of Tamano and Castro, on Feb. 2. The arrest order came after the filing of grave oral defamation charges against the two, as advised by prosecutors of the Department of Justice prosecutorial staff.

 Oddly, their urgent motion gave primacy to the municipal court order over the superior court’s en banc decision.  Instead of deferring to the high tribunal’s ruling, the government’s lawyers asked the SC to clarify the TPO’s intended scope and application.

How explain these aggressive, if not arrogant, steps by the NTF-ELCAC via the OSG?

Soon after the SC issued its en banc ruling on Feb. 15, National Security Council assistant director-general Jonathan Malaya (and sometimes NTF-ELCAC spokesperson) spoke at the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon public briefing from Malacañang. Dismissing the SC ruling as only a “temporary setback” and not a “great victory” for Tamano and Castro, Malaya declared:

“[This is a] grand conspiracy to malign and destroy the credibility of our public officers. In our opinion, they do not deserve a writ of amparo or a writ of habeas data, or even a temporary protection order” because “there is no threat whatsoever to their lives.”

However, the Supreme Court ruling, in providing protection to the two activists, had already cited the public statements of Malaya himself announcing that they would “expose all information” they have on the two and that they may be charged with perjury.

His pronouncements, the SC ruling said, were “already an open and express threat to petitioners’ right to life, liberty and security publicly verbalized by [a] government official admittedly engaged in the gathering, collecting and storing of data and information against the petitioners.”

As the SC ruling noted, Malaya’s pronouncements satisfied the purpose and coverage of the writ of amparo – a judicial remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security are violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act “or omission” by state authorities or private individuals or entities.

On the other hand, the writ of habeas data is a remedy for an aggrieved person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by government authorities or private persons and entities engaged in gathering, collecting or storing of information on such person, his family, home and correspondence. It entitles such aggrieved person to access the collected/stored information and to challenge or correct the data.

On whose authority did Malaya claim that Tamano and Castro do not deserve the right to enjoy the protection of these writs?  These, including the writ of kalikasan, were promulgated and adopted by the Supreme Court after the tribunal, led by then Chief Justice Reynato Puno, convened a national summit on extrajudicial killings in 2007. Originally, these protective instruments for the people were promulgated and applied in South American countries.

The continuing ordeal of Tamano and Castro began in the early evening of Sept. 2, 2023, as they were walking in the street in Orani, Bataan. They had been helping fisherfolk in the area fight land reclamation projects adversely affecting their livelihood. Armed men alighted from a van and forcibly took them away, according to witnesses. For almost two weeks their relatives, friends and human rights group endeavored to find the missing women.

 On Sept. 15, the authorities disclosed that the two, whom the military claimed were members of the New People’s Army, were “safe and sound” after supposedly having “surrendered” to the 70th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

On Sept. 19, military custodians and the NTF-ELCAC convened a press conference, where they would present Tamano and Castro. But the two turned the tables on them, asserting that what really happened was that they had been abducted, held incommunicado and pressured to sign self-incriminating statements. Their military custodian, stunned, was unable to refute their statements. The two were thus allowed to return to their families and friends.

In December, the 70th IB commanding officer filed a complaint of perjury against them, as Malaya had suggested. But the DOJ panel of prosecutors dismissed the complaint as without merit.

Then, on Feb. 1, DOJ prosecutors filed the grave oral defamation charge, which is a lighter offense than perjury. The next day the municipal court issued a warrant of arrest against the two activists. On Feb. 21, they posted bail bonds of P18,000 each. The court withdrew the arrest warrant.

Has the story come to a rightful conclusion at last? Just this Thursday, the two activists reported that they are still being subjected to surveillance.

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