MANILA, Philippines – Sister Elenita Belardo on Friday, December 6, posted an P18,000 bail before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court over a perjury charge that stemmed from a complaint of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Based on Belardo's charge sheet, she is charged with perjury for swearing under oath that she is part of the "registered nonstock, non-profit" organization Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, when Securities and Exchange Commission records showed that RMP's registration was revoked in 2003.
Esperon filed the perjury complaint against Belardo and 11 other individuals from progressive groups after they included him as a respondent in the petitions for writ of amparo filed before the Court of Appeals, which court dismissed.
Esperon accused the groups of making false statements when they accused him alongside other generals of harassment and red-tagging. What flourished was the perjury accusation over RMP's revoked registration.
"There being probable cause to hold Sr Elenita Belardo for trial for the crime of perjury penalized by Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code, the undersigned respectfully recommends that attached information be approved for filing in court," said the resolution signed by Quezon City Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Nilo Peñaflor on November 8.
The charge was filed before the Quezon City RTC on the same day.
The 80-year-old Belardo, among the nuns who stood against the Marcos regime, has been involved with RMP in its literacy programs and the establishment of schools for indigenous communities.
RMP said the case was part of a vilification campaign against groups that criticize abuses of the Duterte administration.
“It is clear that this perjury case was filed against the petitioners to turn the discussion away from the real issue and as a reprisal to stop us from speaking about widespread human rights violations,” the RMP said in a statement.
RMP is itself targeted after the Philippine government asked the European Union (EU) to stop funding the group for allegedly being a "communist front."
“Ultimately, we know that this is part of the efforts to discredit and vilify our organization and to impede our missionary work and advocacy for land, justice and peace,” RMP said.
Prosecutors cleared 11 others in Esperon's complaint, including Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, who reiterated their support for Belardo.
“As we stand firmly by Sister Elen's side, we warn Esperon that this we will not let this pass. We will fight back,” said Palabay.
Belardo said that when the SEC revoked RMP's registration in 2003, RMP immediately applied for reregistration and had since regularly submitted the organization's General Information Sheet (GIS).
Belardo added that RMP also regularly submitted the organization's financial statements to SEC and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and that the agencies did not raise questions about RMP's registration.
"Respondents claimed that the foregoing documents were received by the BIR and SEC without incident thus reinforcing their belief that RMP's reincorporation has been approved," the resolution quoted Belardo.
Another RMP nun included in Esperon's complaint was Sister Emma Cupin, but only Belardo was charged as being one of the signatories when the registration was revoked.
Belardo was then national chairperson of RMP and deported Sister Patricia Fox was the corporate secretary.
"Hence, for all intents and purposes, Sr Belardo, being one of the signatories thereof, cannot feign ignorance as to the factual revocation of its Certificate of Registration," said the resolution.
Rights groups have slammed Esperon's complaint as another harassment suit in a continuing crackdown on progressive groups. – Rappler.com