Philippine human rights defenders have launched a campaign to call for an end to a police manhunt for four former leftist legislators
accused of murder. The initial signatories of the demand issued of Aug. 6 include 24 members of the Lower House of Congress, a senator, lawyers, church leaders, artists, and journalists. They called for the dismissal of cases filed against Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casino of the Bayan Muna Party, Rafael Mariano of the Anakpawis Party, and Liza Maza of the women's party Gabriela
. Mariano served as President Rodrigo Duterte's Agrarian Reform chief until last year, while Maza currently heads the government's National Anti-Poverty Commission. "Injustice casts a long shadow," read the statement of the rights activists who denounced the decision of Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla to issues an arrest warrant for the former legislators. Atienza-Turla, a judge in the northern province of Nueva Ecija, issued the arrest order on July 11 after she said she found probable cause against the accused. The case stemmed from a complaint filed 12 years ago by two widows who accused the activists of conspiracy in the killing of their husbands. In 2008, however, the same judge chided prosecutors for legal anomalies in the case. "There is no justifiable reason for the arrest order," read the statement of the human rights defenders. "The latest order comes without any explanation for the reversal despite being based on the same evidence, facts, and circumstances," it added. The judge recused herself from the case last week, citing intense media and public pressure. A group known to be supportive of the government, however, used Atienza-Turla's arrest order to offer a US$19,000 bounty on each of the former legislators. The human rights defenders called on Judge Trece Wenceslao, who is now handling the case, "to reverse a clearly unjust order." Various courts have thrown out similar or related cases against the former legislators who were even awarded damages due to perjured statements of witnesses. The anti-misogyny group #BabaeAko
(I Am A Woman) slammed the woman judge for reportedly putting at risk the cannons of judicial ethics and impartiality.
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"She must be held accountable for issuing an arrest order that gave 'legitimacy' to long standing attempts by the police to criminalize leaders of Bayan Muna party," said the group in a statement.