Cordillera activists expect more attacks following dismissal of writ of amparo petition

Sherwin de Vera

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Cordillera activists expect more attacks following dismissal of writ of amparo petition

RIIGHT TO DISSENT. Students from Baguio universities join the 50th anniversary commemoration declaration of Martial Law.

Sherwin de Vera

(UPDATED) 'I feel like we are defenseless from the everyday threat we face, from red-tagging and harassment by the military,' Rogyn Beyao says

TABUK CITY, Philippines – Rogyn Beyao’s concern for her safety has grown twofold in the past few days. She has been having bouts of anxiety since three men, who identified themselves as military personnel, accosted and tried to coerce her to avail of the government’s program for rebel returnees in March 2019. 

“I feel like we are defenseless from the everyday threat we face, from red-tagging and harassment by the military. It seems not even the court would heed our call for protection,” she said in Ilocano on Sunday, October 30. 

Beyao, from the Mabaca tribe in Balbalan, Kalinga, is the secretary general of Innabuyog-Kalinga. She shared that her parents and relatives were among the 95 persons in her village “forced by the military to clear their names” in 2021 for allegedly supporting communist guerrillas. 

“They were asked to sign a withdrawal of support to the NPA (New People’s Army) and CPA (Cordillera Peoples Alliance). They singled out my parents, telling them to convince me to stop my activism and resign from CPA, which they tagged as a front of the CPP-NPA,” she added. 

“There might be no law penalizing it but the threats felt by victims of red-tagging are real. Every day, we battle the fear and the stigma that it brought to our lives. And I think, this is why I am very upset with the dismissal of our petition,” she said. 

Writ of Amparo petition denied

The Court of Appeals (CA) denied the writ of amparo initially filed by 23 members of CPA and affiliates in the provinces and Baguio City. It was amended on September 2 to include Stephen Tauli, who was abducted on August 20 and released the following day. 

In an October 25 ruling, the Appellate Court’s 17th Division said the petitioners failed to substantiate their allegations. Rappler secured a copy of the decision on October 28 from one of the petitioners. 

“These allegations are general and vague, and how the acts of the persons threatened their lives, liberty or security are connected with the six government agencies named as respondents of this case were not even established,” the court stated. 

The individuals sought legal relief for the relentless red-tagging and vilification campaign against them and the unwanted visits from police and the military. The petitioners attributed the latter concern to the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee resolution promoting Tokhang against activists. 

They also cited local governments’ persona non grata declaration, the baseless charges filed against several of the petitioners, and the encampment of soldiers inside indigenous communities. The complainants deemed these acts as continuing threats to their lives, safety, and security.  

Aside from the police and military, respondents include the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Department of Interior and Local Government Cordillera Regional Office, and the Cordillera Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee. 

The petition also urged the court to direct a probe of persona non grata issuances by LGUs against CPA and the ‘troll accounts’ red-tagging the petitioners. They also urged the court to void the RLECC Tokhang resolution against activists for being unconstitutional. 

CA affirms decision

In a 16-page decision dated April 11, 2023 but was made public on April 17, the CA affirmed its decision, which junked the group’s petition for the issuance of a writ of amparo. 

Penned by Associate Justice Angeline Mary Quimpo-Sale, the CA’s former 17th Division said the “sheer volume” of screenshots “does not automatically amount to substantial evidence proving that the Facebook posts were made by or under the direction of the respondents.”        

“There is nothing in the screenshots that would support petitioners’ conclusion that the Facebook posts are directly connected with the six respondents,” the CA noted.

The appellate court added that the Facebook posts mentioned in the case, made two years ago, are important to determine the existence of present, imminent, or actual threat against the petitioner’s life, liberty, or security.   

“If petitioners actually felt threatened by the Facebook posts, they should have reported the matter immediately for investigation and should not have waited after two years only to file a petition for the issuance of writ of amparo before this Court,” the CA said.      

‘No imminent danger’

The court denied the petitioners’ request for a preliminary injunction against online red-tagging and other written materials like posters, tarps, and leaflets. 

“The amended petition does not show how the Facebook posts from two years ago translate to a present, imminent or actual threat to the nine petitioners’ life, liberty or security,” the ruling said. 

The court pointed out that the complainants failed to identify persons managing the pages or the respondents’ control over the accounts. It also noted that “petitioners were unable to establish any of the four requisites” for issuing a temporary restraining order. 

Concerning their plea for judicial notice of the RLECC resolution, the ruling said the petition did not substantiate how the resolution “violates their right to due process and presumption of innocence.” 

“The amended petition likewise does not mention how tis resolution is being implemented by law enforcement agencies and representatives of other government agencies in Cordillera Region,” the ruling stated. 

Bracing for attacks

In an October 29 interview, petitioner Jeoffrey Larua expressed concern the decision may encourage individuals who indiscriminately accuse government dissenters as CPP-NPA members or supporters. 

“We are disheartened by the court’s decision. Already red-taggers and rights violators like Lorraine Badoy and her army of trolls are having a field day in parading the decision like another victory,” said Larua, the secretary general of Tongtongan ti Umili, CPA’s Metro Baguio chapter. 

“We only expect for the attacks to continue… However, we will continue to explore other ways to bring them to justice in our legal system,” Larua said. 

Petitioner and CPA chairperson Windel Bolinget said on October 29 they intend to file a motion for reconsideration.

“We will study our next move after filling our motion, and the CA takes action,” he added. – Rappler.com

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