By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter
A QUEZON City trial court has acquitted 10 human rights workers from perjury charges filed by a former national security adviser in 2019.
In a 45-page decision released on Monday, the court said government prosecutors failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the respondents deliberately lied in their petitions that named former National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr.
“Conviction must rest no less than on hard evidence showing that the accused, with moral certainty, is guilty of the crime charged,” Associate Justice Aimee Marie B. Alcera said in the ruling.
“The Supreme Court recognizes that perjury strikes at the very administration of laws that is the policy of the law that judicial proceedings and judgements shall be fair and free from fraud.”
The human rights workers earlier filed a petition for a writ of amparo and habeas data before the Supreme Court, where they sought protection after attacks against rights officials were reported in 2019.
The writs would grant members of the groups protection and would compel state actors to destroy information about them.
The petition detailed the attacks and harassment against human rights workers by the military and other state officials.
The writs of amparo and habeaus data are legal remedies available to anyone whose right to life, liberty, and security is violated by a public official or employee.
Mr. Esperon filed the perjury charges against representatives from rights group Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and the Gabriela Women’s Party after they included him in the list of respondents in the petition.
The Supreme Court granted the petition and ordered the Court of Appeals to hear the petition, which the appellate court dismissed. The petition is still on appeal before the same court.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told the United Nations Human Rights Council in November that the government does not sanction attacks, harassment or intimidation of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists.
He also said the government should be able to respond to its detractors.
“It is also at the heart of every criminal proceeding that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” the Quezon City court said.
In a statement reacting to the court decision, House Deputy Minority Leader France L. Castro said in Filipino, “We are elated that our friends from Gabriela, Karapatan at Rural Missionaries of the Philippines were acquitted from the malicious case against them by General Esperon.”
“We are hopeful that other made-up cases against other human rights defenders will be junked,” the ACT Teachers Party-list representative added.
“This decision serves as a reminder that the fight for human rights and justice must continue, and that those who stand up for these values should not be silenced or punished.” — with Beatriz Marie D. Cruz