MANILA, Philippines – Amnesty International urged the Philippine government to drop charges filed against activists and human rights defenders amid the crackdown on dissent in the country.
In a statement on Wednesday, March 4, the group expressed alarm that activists continue to "face threats and undue restrictions" to their rights to freedom of expression and association without any way to protect themselves.
"Not only is the government preventing activists from doing their work, it is also depriving them of access to legal recourse," Amnesty said.
At least 10 activists are again facing perjury charges at Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 37 even if they were previously cleared.
Those charged include Jose Mari Callueng, Edita Burgos, Roneo "Jigs" Clamor, Elisa Tita Lubi, Gertrudes Lanjo Libang, Joan May Salvador, Wilfredo Ruazol, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Cristina Palabay, and Sister Emma Cupin.
They joined nun Sister Elenita Belardo, the original defendant in the case.
The case stems from a complaint filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr after activists named him as a respondent in the petitions for writ of amparo filed before the Court of Appeals, which it dismissed. (READ: Lives in danger as red-tagging campaign intensifies)
Amnesty, in its statement, condemned the revived charges and asked the government to stop its attacks on progressive groups.
"Instead of using the law to further intimidate its critics, the government should fulfill its obligation to ensure a safe and enabling environment in which they are able to continue their work without fear of reprisals," the group said.
Human rights organizations have consistently criticized the Duterte government's treatment of dissent in the Philippines.
Since 2016, more than 3,000 people have been arrested over what are believed to be trumped-up charges, the worst compared to the administrations of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III. (READ: Duterte's war on dissent)
"The worsening situation of human rights defenders and political activists in the country must be addressed, including by ensuring that the criminal justice system is not misused to target and harass critical voices," Amnesty said. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.