Rights group denied chance to present evidence in red-tagging hearing

The Court of Appeals 14th Division submits the case for decision without allowing human rights group Karapatan to present testimonies and witnesses

Lian Buan

Published: 3:23 PM June 18, 2019

Updated: 3:23 PM June 18, 2019

AMPARO HEARING. Karapatan's Cristina Palabay talks to media after the first and last hearing of the Court of Appeals on their writ of amparo petition on June 18, 2019. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – It was a small victory for rights groups that quickly lost its momentum after the Court of Appeals (CA) on Tuesday, June 18, terminated – after just one hearing – the writ of amparo case of human rights group Karapatan.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said she was “deeply disappointed” at the outcome of the hearing on Tuesday, after the CA 14th Division submitted their case for decision without giving them the chance to present testimonies and witnesses.

In May, the Supreme Court issued a writ of amparo and habeas data in favor of Karapatan, religious group Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, and women's group Gabriela. They want court protection against threats to the lives, liberty, and security of their members through a writ of amparo; and for the government to disclose and destroy all files or records gathered against their members through a writ of habeas data.

A writ of amparo is a legal remedy seeking a protection order. The CA is meant to decide on the plea of Karapatan for  a protective order, or a restraining order of sorts against the military.

During the first hearing on Tuesday,  Associate Justice Mario Lopez asked Karapatan and its counsels for their judicial affidavit. The lawyers for the rights groups explained that they only brought with them a list of witnesses, expecting the hearing to be a pre-conference.

But Lopez said it was a summary hearing and denied the group’s plea to submit the affidavits at a later time. The case was therefore submitted for decision without presentation of evidence.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers,  Karapatan legal counsel in the case, has its own ongoing writ of amparo trial at the CA Special 15th Division. NUPL secretary-general Ephraim Cortez said NUPL was given a pre-conference.

“So why allow some procedures in some cases involving one petitioner and disallow following these procedures in this particular case? We argued this should have been followed, otherwise there is a violation of due process for our clients,” Cortez told reporters after the hearing.

Double dead

Karapatan planned to present its witness, human rights worker Ryan Hubilla, to testify on army harassment. Hubilla, a 22-year-old senior high school student; and Nelly Bagasala, 69 – both human rights advocates – were killed by unknown gunmen in Sorsogon on June 15.

Palabay said the denial to present evidence felt like a second death to their group.

“Ginagawa po ba kaming double-dead ng Korte? Kami po ay pumunta sa Korte para humingi ng legal protection dahil ang mga threats – ang direct statements po ng Pangulo laban sa Karapatan, ng mga military officials, ay tingin namin, hindi simpleng salita. Ito po ay nagkakatotoo. Kami na nga po ang pinapatay,” said Palabay. 

(Is the court trying to kill us twice over? We went to the court to ask for legal protection because of the threats – we think the President and military officials' direct statements against Karapatan are not mere words. They're coming true. We are being killed.)

NUPL assistant secretary general Josa Deinla said she was “deeply disturbed” by the CA’s treatment of their case.

“Siguro isa na lang tanong namin: Ilan pa bang patay ang gustong madagdag bago umaksyon ang mga korte (We only have one question: How many more have to die for the court to act)?" said Deinla. – Rappler.com