A group of Filipino human rights activists posted bail on March 3 after once again being hit with perjury charges, which were initiated by the Philippines’ national security chief.
The case was initially dismissed against all but one of the 11 activists of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), Gabriela Women’s Party (GABRIELA), and Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan) in December 2019 for “lack of probable cause and/or insufficiency of evidence.”
The one exception is the case against an 80-year-old nun, Sister Elenita Belardo, the former national coordinator of the RMP.
The prosecutor’s office of Quezon City in the Philippine capital, however, filed a new perjury charge against the other 10 activists, whom the military has accused of being linked to communist rebels.
In a two-page resolution dated Feb. 24, the prosecutor found “probable cause to indict” the activists. Bail has been set at 18,000 pesos ($355) each.
That decision was based on a motion for reconsideration filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
The former military general said the organizations had falsely claimed that they were registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, thus calling into question their legal ability to have filed a petition before the courts.
Esperon specifically accused the RMP of failing to submit the required annual financial statements and general information sheets from 1997 to 2003 to the regulatory body.
He also accused GABRIELA and Karapatan of having links with the communist rebels.
Esperon alleged the groups collected donations from international organizations to run 55 tribal schools, which were shut down last year also over their alleged links to communist rebels.
The rights groups had earlier appealed to the country’s Supreme Court, seeking a protection order against alleged government harassment and intimidation.
The group cited a series of alleged red-tagging and human rights violations directed at the organizations and its members in their filing.
The groups named President Rodrigo Duterte, Esperon, and several other military and government officials who are part of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as respondents in their petition.
Esperon, former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, responded by accusing the group of making false allegations about government officials.
The activist groups countered that Esperon’s complaint was yet 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.”
Karapatan condemned the charges, claiming they had “come back from the dead” after earlier being dismissed.
“We assert and reiterate that this perjury charge is nothing more than a trumped-up retaliatory suit,” read the group’s statement.