Perjury charges irk Philippine church, rights groups

Rural Missionaries of the Philippines says charges an attempt to harass, intimidate organization
Perjury charges irk Philippine church, rights groups

Families of victims of alleged human rights abuses join a demonstration to call for a stop to attacks on activists and civilians. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

A group of missionaries and human rights activists have asked a Philippine court to dismiss perjury charges filed against them by the government's national security adviser early last month.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and human rights group Karapatan denied allegations by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon that they provided false information to the Securities and Exchange Commission when they filed Writ of Amparo petitions against government and military officials.

The writ is a legal remedy for any person who feels their life, liberty and security are threatened by an unlawful act or oversight by a government official.

The groups said they filed the petitions after being falsely branded communist sympathizers in a government campaign to harass and intimidate them.

Esperon hit back by filing perjury charges, claiming the petitions were filled with falsehoods.

"They sued the president, myself, and seven others, and so it was discovered that their documentation was fake and that's clear perjury," Esperon told reporters.

The Court of Appeals has rejected the petitions, saying there was no evidence to show that state agents or the military had "violated or threatened the right to privacy of the petitioners," he said.

Karapatan secretary-general, Cristina Palabay, called the perjury charges "baseless."

Good Shepherd nun Elenita Belardo, coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, said Esperon was "spreading blatant lies" by accusing the religious group of "being run by communists."

The nun said she has documents to prove that papers lodged with the Securities and Exchange Commission were updated.

Sister Belardo said the perjury case only aims "to turn the discussion away from the real issue," which she said is the violation by state forces of human rights.

"They’ve been red-tagging, harassing, and threatening us. These are the reasons why we filed the petitions … in the first place," said the nun.

Father Wilfredo Ruazol, executive secretary of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, said filing charges against human rights groups "constitutes the very same vicious attacks, which we aim to deter through our petitions."

But Esperon, citing military and police reports, claimed a pattern linking the groups to anti-government forces, especially in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

In his three-page affidavit-complaint, the national security adviser said he filed the charges because the groups were the first to file a case against the government.

"They are still saying they are registered [with the government] and collecting donations from everywhere to fund the activities of the [communist rebels]," he said.

Esperon, however, said not everyone in the organizations are communists "because the [Rural Missionaries of the Philippines] have nuns, priests, and laymen as members."

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