Press Release
March 14, 2020

De Lima condemns perjury charges vs human rights defenders

With the growing trend of the Duterte regime in misusing and abusing the law to silence its critics, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has denounced the recent perjury cases filed against human rights defenders and political activists.

De Lima made the statement following reports that 10 human rights activists were charged with perjury in their writ of amparo filed before the Court of Appeals last year. The complaint was filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

"Under Duterte's tyrannical manipulations, human rights defenders are treated as criminals by our justice system while violators are given full protection," De Lima said in her recent Dispatch from Crame 731.

"Binaboy na ng husto ni Duterte at ng kanyang mga alipores ang Rule of Law, mula sa paninira sa mga kritiko, pag-imbento ng mga kaso, pagkanlong sa mga tunay na kriminal, at pagpatay sa sarili nilang mamamayan," she added.

Charged with perjury were Elisa Tita Lubi, Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Edita Burgos, Jose Mari Calleung and Wilfredo Ruazol, all of whom belong to the human rights group Karapatan.

Also charged were Gabriela members Joan May Salvador and Gertrudes Libang, and Sr. Emma Cupin, a 63-year-old nun who belongs to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

The lady Senator from Bicol pointed out that dissent and criticism against the government should be protected in a democracy and that human rights defenders, like her, should be spared from state-sanctioned persecution and harassment.

"We live in a time when prosecuting erring public officials are exceptions, rather than the rule; where policemen and senior prosecutors spend more time pursuing and prosecuting libel and imaginary sedition cases against the political opposition rather than address the injustice committed by corrupt soldiers and policemen," she said.

"If this administration can use our present laws to focus our resources on persecuting dissent, what incentive is there to give our government stronger legal weapons to surveil, attack, and detain people for prolonged periods of time based on barely anything more than mere suspicion?" she added.

Last Feb. 26, the Anti-Terrorism Bill was approved in the 3rd reading thru a majority vote with Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros voting against it. De Lima noted that she would also have voted against it as well, if given the opportunity.

Critics of the bill fear that when passed into law, the same may be abused by repressive leaders to surveil and detain persons perceived as critical to the government.

De Lima, the most prominent political prisoner under the Duterte administration, expressed apprehension that the misuse of lawfare will continue to pick up in the coming years, targeting more political leaders and human rights activists.

"As Duterte clings desperately to a crumbling regime, we expect intensified attacks against democratic discourse and legitimate dissent," she said.

"As it employs the state machinery against dissenters, it will also use the full force of this machinery to pursue its murderous anti-people policies. So now is not the time to stop, rest and be cowed," she added.

In the 18th Congress, De Lima refiled her Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Bill, now logged as Senate Bill (SB) 179 which seeks to provide state protection for human rights defenders against attack, harassment, intimidation, and reprisal.

Under her proposed measure, a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee shall be created and tasked to protect human rights defenders from intimidation and reprisals and to ensure accountability for acts of intimidation against them.

It is also mandated to investigate all forms of violations of human rights against HRDs and prepare and submit reports on the situation of rights defenders to relevant international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms, among others.

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