Generals snub red-tagging hearing at Court of Appeals

Lian Buan
Generals snub red-tagging hearing at Court of Appeals
The generals, including national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon and defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, are required to attend the hearing on July 11

MANILA, Philippines – The top brass of the Philippine military snubbed a hearing at the Court of Appeals (CA) on Thursday, June 6, frustrating human rights lawyers who sued them of red-tagging and continuous harassment.

“Their red-tagging is so vicious yet they don’t even show up, they don’t have the audacity to stand their ground,’ said National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia in a mix of English and Filipino.

The CA’s Special 15th Division required the generals to attend the next hearing on July 11. 

“The Court required the respondents to appear next hearing, July 11, and they committed to present, or that 7 generals will attend the next hearing,” said Rachel Pastores, lawyer for petitioners NUPL. 

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), representing the military, initially reasoned that they thought the generals’ presence were not required, but later cited conflict of schedule.

The hearing aims to thresh out the complaint of the NUPL that the military has been sanctioning harassment and red-tagging against their lawyers nationwide. The Supreme Court earlier granted the NUPL a writ of amparo, a legal remedy seeking a protection order.

The Court of Appeals will have to decide whether to give protection orders to the lawyers, which would be akin to a restraning order against the military.

Summoned to appear on July 11 were: national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon; defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana; Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Benjamin Madrigal; AFP deputy commander for intelligence Major General Fernando Trinidad; Intelligence Service of AFP chief Major General Erwin Bernard Neri; Army Commanding General Lieutenant General Macairog Alberto; and AFP deputy chief for civil military operations Major General Antonio Parlade Jr.

Olalia added that during the pre-trial conference, the OSG committed to put Parlade on the witness stand.

Parlade spoke before a convention in Singapore where he accused the NUPL of having links to communist rebels. Parlade is the same military official who accused certain non-governmental organizations of being front groups for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). 

The European Union (EU), which funds the NGOs, said it would conduct an audit to verify Parlade’s claims.

Condemning the accusation as red-tagging, the NUPL said Parlade’s statements are the peak of harassments against human rights lawyers since the start of President Duterte’s administration.

By its count, there have been 55 lawyers attacked and threatened since July 2016; 36 of them were killed.

Olalia said that the red-tagging and harrassment from the army is worse in the Duterte administration than in the Arroyo administration, whose anti-insurgency campaign was tainted by multiple allegations of human rights violations.

The most infamous case of the Arroyo era is Army Major General Jovito Palparan, who has been convicted of kidnapping  activists and is serving lifetime imprisonment at the New Bilibid Prison.

“The Duterte administration is more vicious, more malicious, more unrelenting, in red-tagging. It is without let up, it is unscrupulous, and characterized by impunity,” Olalia said.

Olalia was the first witness of the NUPL to go on the stand. He had a slightly tense exchange with the OSG lawyer doing the cross examination who called the NUPL’s petition “nitpicking.”

Lawyer Czarina Musni from Cagayan de Oro also took the witness stand, testifying on her inclusion in several posters distributed in her province tagging her, other lawyers, priests and teachers as communist rebels. 

President Rodrigo Duterte was included as respondent in the NUPL’s complaint, but Pastores conceded that he cannot be compelled to come to the court “because he is the president.” – 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.