An 80-year-old missionary nun in the Philippines posted bail on Dec. 6, to avoid arrest for charges of “perjury” that were filed by no less than the government’s National Security Adviser.
A court in the capital Manila has earlier issued a warrant for the arrest of Sister Elenita Belardo, a member of the Religious of the Good Shepherd congregation.
“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,” read a statement from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), which the nun previously led.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. filed perjury charges against Sister Belardo of RMP, and officials of rights group Karapatan and Gabriela women’s organization, accusing the organizations of lying about their legal status.
The former military general said the organizations falsely claimed that they were registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He also accused the three groups of diverting funds to communist rebels.
The Office of the Prosecutor later dismissed the charges against the respondents except for the allegations against Sister Belardo.
The prosecutors said the nun’s “defense of good faith … cannot be given full faith and credence there being a clear showing that false narration of facts has actually been committed.”
In an earlier statement, Sister Belardo said her organization “did not intend to deceive anyone, or falsify anything” when it comes to her organization’s registration with the SEC.
“As far as we know, we have filed for the renewal of our registration in 2010 and we have document to prove that the SEC received them,” said the nun.
Esperon accused the RMP of failing to submit the required General Information Sheets and Financial Statements of the organization from 1997 to 2003 the regulatory body, thus the missionary group has no legal personality to file a petition before the courts.
The rights groups have earlier asked the country’s Supreme Court for a protection order against alleged government harassment and intimidation.
The groups named President Rodrigo Duterte and several military and government officials, including Esperon, who are part of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as respondents.
Esperon, former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, responded by accusing the groups of making false allegations about government officials in their petitions for a “writ of amparo” and “writ of habeas data.”
The activist groups countered that Esperon’s complaint was another form of government harassment.
In its statement, the RMP said the perjury case aims “to stop us from speaking about widespread human rights violations.”