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Filipino court rejects protection for rights, church groups

Rights defenders coalition condemns Appeal Court for refusing to grant writs against 'threats from state forces'
Filipino court rejects protection for rights, church groups

Human rights groups hold a protest in Manila to call on the government to stop alleged attacks on farmers and rights activists. (File photo by Jire Carreon)

Published: July 05, 2019 09:47 AM GMT
Updated: July 05, 2019 09:49 AM GMT

Church and human rights groups in the Philippines have condemned a Court of Appeals ruling rejecting a petition from rights and church groups seeking legal protection from military harassment.

The petition calling for writs of amparo and habeas data came from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), human rights group Karapatan, and women's organization Gabriela.

In its decision, the court said it found "no evidence of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, malicious prosecutions and defamations" as alleged by the organizations.

The Supreme Court introduced the writ of amparo (protection) in 2007 as a legal remedy for any person who felt their life, liberty and security were threatened by an unlawful act or oversight by a government official.

The writ of habeas data (access to information) was also introduced to give individuals the right to find out what information was being kept about them by the government, and to demand its updating, rectification or destruction.

If the petition had been granted to the church and rights groups it would have resulted in a court order halting alleged surveillance of them by state agents and the destruction of information about them that is believed to be held by the military.

The court, however, said there was no evidence to show that state agents or the military had “violated or threatened the right to privacy of the petitioners."

In a statement, Karapatan said the petition’s dismissal was a "gross disservice to all human rights defenders who continue to face perilous conditions."

"This is tantamount to complicity in attacks perpetrated against us," said Cristina Palabay, of the rights group’s secretary-general.

The RMP, meanwhile, condemned what it described as "vilifying remarks" made by the government's top security official who accused the religious organization of being "run by communists."

Hermogenes Esperon Jr., President Rodrigo Duterte's National Security Adviser made the alleged allegation when he lodged a perjury complaint against the RMP and the other groups seeking the writs on July 2.

Esperon accused them of issuing false statements in their writ applications.

The military accused the groups of serving as a legal front of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

RMP was named as one of several groups using financial assistance from the European Union and Belgium to "radicalize" children in rural areas.

Esperon said the certificate of registration of the RMP, a group of Catholic priests, nuns, and lay people had long been revoked.

In a statement, the RMP said the government official’s claims were "a blatant lie."

"They’ve been spreading these lies. They’ve been red-tagging, harassing and threatening us.

“These are the reasons why we filed the petitions … in the first place," said Good Shepherd nun Elenita Belardo, national coordinator of the RMP.

Palabay of Karapatan said the rights groups will continue to "exhaust all legal means to appeal and overturn the appeal court’s decision to reject the petitions.

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