Philippines: End judicial harassment against human rights defenders

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Jes Aznar / Getty Images Asiapac via AFP

Paris-Geneva, June 20, 2022 – Ten human rights defenders, including members of OMCT members Karapatan and women’s rights organisation Gabriela, and of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), are facing trial in retaliation for their human rights work, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH) denounced today. The authorities must end the criminalisation against the 10 defenders and immediately implement systems for the protection of human rights defenders in order for them to continue their human rights work.

Ten human rights defenders and members of Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela, are facing trial before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 37 on trumped-up charge of “perjury” in retaliation for their actions seeking legal protection for human rights defenders. The ten individuals are: Elisa Tita Lubi, Karapatan Chairperson; Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General; Roneo Clamor, Karapatan Deputy Secretary General; Gabriela Grista Dalena, Karapatan Treasurer; Edita Burgos; Wilfredo Ruazol, and Jose Mari Callueng, Karapatan National Council members; Gertrudes Ranjo Libang, Gabriela Chairperson; Joan May Salvador, Gabriela Secretary General; and Emma Cupin, RMP member. If convicted, they could face up to two years and two months of imprisonment. Starting June 10, 2022, until August 1, 2022, Palabay and the rest of Karapatan National Council members charged in the case will deliver their testimonies before the court.

The Observatory recalls that on May 6, 2019, due to the alarming increase of violence against human rights defenders in the Philippines, the above-mentioned human rights defenders from Karapatan, Gabriela, and the RMP filed a petition for the writ of amparo (protection order) and habeas data (access to information) before the Supreme Court, seeking protection against threats, attacks, and harassment by government officials. The Philippine Court of Appeals denied their petition in June 2019.

Following the rejection of the petition, the authorities responded with retaliatory measures against the 10 human rights defenders. On July 2, 2019, National Security Adviser Mr. Hermogenes Esperon, who was named in the petition, lodged a “perjury” complaint against them, alleging that the 10 defendants had committed that offence by stating that the RMP was a registered non-governmental organisation at the Securities and Exchange Commission in the petition they filed before the Supreme Court. While the perjury complaint was initially dismissed for “lack of probable cause and/or insufficiency of evidence”, in February 2020, the Quezon City prosecutor sustained a motion for reconsideration filed by the National Security Adviser and found probable cause to charge the 10 human rights defenders with “perjury”.

In the Philippines, human rights defenders continue to face attacks, killings, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention and stigmatisation campaigns led by both state and non-state actors. Since June 2016, when President Duterte took power, a climate in which attacks against human rights defenders are acceptable and legitimised has prevailed. The killings of defenders have rarely been investigated, which increases the vulnerability of those who remain active, while undermining the human rights community’s confidence in the justice system. In addition, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was passed in July 2020, further compounded the precarious situation for human rights defenders by legally formalising the practice of “red-tagging” defenders with overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the judicial harassment of the 10 above-mentioned individuals as it seems to be in retaliation against them for trying to seek legal protection for all human rights defenders in the country. The Observatory urges the authorities to end the judicial harassment against them, and put an end to all human rights violations perpetrated against members of Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country. Finally, the Observatory calls on President-elect of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., to cease threats and attacks against rights defenders and ensure the protection of their rights, including the rights to life, due process, freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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