Human rights lawyers seek Supreme Court protection from army ‘harassment’

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) filed with the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday, April 15, petitions for Writ of Amparo and Writ of Habeas Data, or protection from so-called harassment and threats from the military.

The petition named President Rodrigo Duterte as respondent in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). 

The petition is based on a public accusation made by Major General Antonio Parlade Jr, the deputy chief-of-staff for civil military operations, that the NUPL has links to communist rebels.

The petition asks the Supreme Court for an urgent Temporary Protection Order. Typically, a TPO serves as a restraining order prohibiting respondents from going near petitioners within a given distance, as was the case when the SC issued a TPO against Quezon City cops in a petition filed by tokhang (drug war killing) victims. 

The petition also asks the High Court for a Writ of Habeas Data, which seeks to compel the military to turn over and destroy information that they have on the petitioners. These may be intelligence information or dossier on the lawyers.

These threats and intimidation, including the fact that Petitioners are being subjected to surveillance, are clear indicia that Respondents are in possession of information, which they have unlawfully compiled and are using as basis in the cited spate of attacks,” said the NUPL.

‘Harassments’

Earlier in April, Parlade said during a speech in Singapore that NUPL cannot deny the links to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) because of “all those high-profile communist terrorist cadre clients you have been defending ever since.”

Parlade is the same military official who accused certain non-governmental organizations of being front groups for the CPP. The European Union (EU), which funds the NGOs, said it would conduct an audit to verify Parlade’s claims.

Condemning the accusation as red-tagging, the NUPL said Parlade’s statements are the peak of harassments against human rights lawyers since the start of President Duterte’s administration.

By its count, there have been 55 lawyers attacked and threatened since July 2016; 36 of them were killed. 

Petitioners include NUPL president Edre Olalia, who said their headquarters in Quezon City “were cased and surrounded by several armed men in civilian clothes.”

Other petitioners are lawyers who reported being attacked, such as lawyer Catherine Salucon, who “experienced heavy surveillance and harassment.” Salucon has secured a Writ of Amparo from the SC. 

“Over the years and up to the present, other members of NUPL from Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Cordillera, Nueva Ecija, Metro Manila, Albay, Sorsogon, Negros, Iloilo, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Davao City, and different parts of Mindanao have been red-tagged, threatened, vilified, or subjected to surveillance,” said the petition.

It added: “A number are tailed, some receive threatening text messages, some are publicly vilified in radio programs, and still a few were even included in a shotgun petition to declare the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations, maliciously labeling them as members of these rebel organizations.”

No genuine probe

The petition points out the 36 cases of lawyer killings since 2016 and the supposed lack of a genuine investigation into them.

“There is a lack of sufficient investigation. No inventory of the used guns, no documented files about the killings linked to the judicary, there is a refusal to hear and protect witnesses and there is reported harassment of witnesses by police and military,” said an international delegation of lawyers who came to the Philippines in March to investigate.

The petition reminded the Supreme Court of its decision in 2008 that upheld the Writ of Amparo given to Raymond Manalo, the crucial witness that led to the conviction of major general Jovito Palparan.

In that decision, the SC said: “[Manalo’s] right to security as ‘freedom from threat’ is violated by the apparent threat to their life, liberty and security of person.”

“The pattern is crystal clear: petitioners are harassed not for their individual actions as lawyers per se, but for being members of the NUPL and the cases, clients, and issues they take on. Given the context, history, and contemporaneous statements and events, Petitioners have a well-founded belief that the respondents herein and their agents are responsible in many ways for the attacks against NUPL and its members,” said the lawyers. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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