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Justice and Truth Will Prevail

Justice and Truth Will Prevail
Karapatan Council member Cristina Palabay (holding the court decision) poses for a photo with other human rights defenders Elisa Lubi, Roneo Clamor, Edita Burgos, Reylan Vergara, Rev. Wilfredo Ruazol, Kiri Dalena, and Jose Mari Callueng; GABRIELA’s human rights coordinator, Gertrudes Libang; GABRIELA’s chairperson and former secretary general, Joan May Salvador; Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) National Coordinator Sr. Elenita Belardo; and RMP Northern Mindanao Region Coordinator Sr. Emma Cupin. (Photo credit: Bulatlat)

It was a brave decision. It was the right decision. Even if it took three years to make. Ever the optimist, I felt it was a good start to the New Year of 2023.

I am referring to the Jan 9, 2023 decision of Judge Aimee Alcera of the Municipal Trial Court Branch 139 to acquit 10 human rights defenders of perjury charges filed by former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. The reason was simple: Esperon failed to “establish beyond reasonable doubt that all accused made a willful and deliberate assertion of a falsehood.”

Esperon filed those charges in 2019 (!) to strike back at the human rights defenders who have made many complaints against him, the executive department, and the military under the government of Rodrigo Duterte. Readers may be familiar with him since he was the National Security Adviser (NSA) Adviser of then President Duterte, AFP Chief of Staff under then President Gloria Arroyo and he led the government’s counterinsurgency program which has been responsible for many gross violations of human rights documented by the human rights alliance Karapatan.

This was not the first time that Esperon had filed charges in court only to have them thrown out by the court. This is the third time!

In 2006, he filed murder charges against more than 70 activists and NDFP peace consultants in the infamous  Hilongos’ case. In 2021, after 14 years (!), Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina dismissed the murder charges. As reported in Bulatlat, Judge Bunyi-Medina wrote in her decision that “there is neither documentary evidence of the alleged 15 victims’ death nor was there forensic evidence presented before the court.” She also wrote that “The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses on the identities of the skeletal remains are full of inconsistencies, highly unbelievable, and clearly perjured.”

In August 2022, Bulatlat won a preliminary injunction against the blocking of its news website, ordered by the government’s National Telecommunications Commission and the National Security Council. In the decision of Judge Dolly Bolante-Prado, which clearly upheld press freedom, it said that “To the Court, any limitation or restriction in the exercise of one’s right, no matter the extent, is a form of deprivation and clearly a violation of such right.”

In addition to the use of red-tagging, Esperon and the NTF-ELCAC clearly uses the filing of charges to harass, intimidate, and to silence critics and people’s organizations. In these three cases, three women judges of the court stood firm against the prosecution in the exercise of law and justice, and under these challenging times, these are courageous acts. When the many unjustly accused refuse to be silenced, to back down but instead push back, these are demonstrations of courage that are required repeatedly, because the retaliations never stop, because the impunity is always there.

In the courts and in the court of people’s public opinion, those who dare to use the law against the people must be exposed as liars and criminals, they who hide behind their government badges or uniforms to harm the people.

I would like to think that justice will prevail and that these liars will have their day in court, however long it takes.

In the meantime, congratulations to the 10 human rights defenders for standing firm.