Esperon’s perjury charges vs activists revived

Lian Buan
The 10 people, mostly activists, are earlier cleared of charges. A different prosecutor drags them back to the case.

REVIVED. Activists from groups Karapatan and Gabriela post P18,000 bail each over a perjury charge filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. Photo courtesy Karapatan

MANILA, Philippines – Activists who were earlier cleared of perjury have been dragged back to the case and on Monday, March 3, posted P18,000 bail each.

The 10 additional people, mostly activists, now join nun Sister Elenita Belardo in the perjury charge pending before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 37, which rooted from a complaint filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Jose Mari Callueng, Edita Burgos, Roneo “Jigs” Clamor, Elisa Tita Lubi, Gertrudes Lanjo Libang, Joan May Salvador, Wilfredo Ruazol, and Gabriela Krista Dalena posted their bail before the Quezon City court on Monday ahead of an issuance of a warrant.

The two others charged – Cristina Palabay who is the secretary general of rights group Karapatan and Sister Emma Cupin – are yet to post bail.

Palabay is in Geneva for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session and said she will post bail as soon as she returns to the Philippines.

Arraignment is scheduled on March 16.

“Accused is directed to attend. Should he fail to appear, the court will be constrained to forfeit his cash bond and issue a new warrant for his arrest,” said Judge Aimee Marie Alcera in the order released Monday after the 8 posted bail.

Esperon filed the perjury complaint against the 11 individuals after the activists and other progressives included him as a respondent in the petitions for writ of amparo filed before the Court of Appeals, which the appellate court dismissed.

In the November 8, 2019 resolution by Quezon City Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Nilo Peñaflor, only Belardo was charged because she identified herself in her pleading against Esperon as being a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP).

Belardo said under oath that RMP is a “registered non-stock, non-profit” organization, when Securities and Exchange Commission records showed that RMP’s registration was revoked in 2003.

Prosecutor Peñaflor said there was perjury on Belardo’s part in that aspect, not in the meaty substance of their accusation against Esperon. All others were cleared by Peñaflor.

Belardo had already posted bail. But Esperon filed an appeal, wanting to charge them all.

Esperon succeeded, but with another prosecutor.

City Prosecutor Vimar Marcellano indicted the 10 other people, still because of RMP’S revoked registration.

“All the respondents cannot feign ignorance about the falsehood willfully stated in their verification/certification as to the unregistered status of RMP,” Marcellano said in the resolution dated February 24, 2020.

Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code defines perjury as “knowingly making untruthful statements” under oath.

The activists and nuns said they signed on to pleadings in good faith that RMP was still a registered organization.

But Prosecutor Marcellano said: “As to their claim of good faith, the issue of whether they acted in good faith is best determined, however, during the trial proper.”

Palabay said that the revived charges are proof of the “closing civic and democratic space in the Philippines.”

“It is ironic that this case has been revived from its earlier dismissal, amid Karapatan’s continuing advocacy work in the Philippines and at the UNHRC and our persistent efforts to pursue a just and lasting peace,” said Palabay.

The military has run after the RMP by accusing the religious group of funnelling funds to communist rebels, in a bid to convince the European Union to stop giving the group financial aid.

RMP is a missionary religious group that works with peasants, indigenous peoples, and other minority groups.

The perjury charges come amid a continuing crackdown on progressive groups. – Rappler.com

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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.