A Philippine court's decision to acquit ten human rights defenders of the perjury charges filed against them was hailed by Malaya Canada and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP).
The groups said this decision gives them hope.
"This is good news, 2022 was a very bad year. With all arrests and detention and other things, this was exactly the news that we wanted," Erie Maestro of Malaya Canada.
The Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 139 recently junked the perjury case filed in March 2020 by former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Esperon claimed that the activists lied under oath in a writ of Amparo petition that KARAPATAN, Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines filed in 2019 against him, former President Rodrigo Duterte, and several other officials.
Maestro noted that it took a long time before the case was decided and lauded the courage of the judge to render a favorable decision.
"That case took three years. And I think, significant yun: a female judge to render para magbigay ng isang very brave decision considering the times."
(I think that’s significant: a female judge to render, to give a very brave decision considering the times.)
ICHRP chairperson Patricia Lisson described the development as 'a very hopeful sign.'
"We're so happy that our ten comrades and partners have been acquitted. But I would suggest that we can't take our eyes off the ball," Lisson said.
The international community also welcomed the dismissal of the perjury charges.
United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, said this decision 'proves that human rights work is legitimate, and should be supported, not prosecuted.'
Member of European Parliament Hannah Neumann also congratulated the human rights defenders and said 'international pressure works.'
Representatives from Canada, Switzerland, Finland, and Austria wanted to be at the promulgation but their requests were not processed by the court in time.
Lisson said she is not surprised at the international interest on the case.
"The Philippines have just gone through the UPR or Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. And we were there and there was a lot of pressure from 113 country states, who brought up particular issues around the Philippines’ human rights and red-tagging. So maybe some of that influenced the Attorney General to encourage the court to be more honest and look at it through the eyes of the law," she said.
Lisson added that the international community has a responsibility to remind the Philippines about their obligations to uphold human rights in the country.
"I think the international stage, being present, really helps to hold the government and the courts accountable for their actions."
But Maestro clarified that it was not just pressure outside but also within the Philippines that helped the case of the human rights defenders.
"It's a mix of reasons but in the end, ito yung mga tao at mga grupo na patuloy na nag-organisa, nagko-comment, nagdi-discuss, nagki-criticize, nag-o-oppose, because in the end, ang bottom line niyan, human rights and justice for the victims of the violations in the Philippines," Maestro stressed.
(These are the people and groups that continue to organize, comment, discuss, criticize, oppose, because in the end, the bottom line is human rights and justice for the victims of violations in the Philippines.)
Amnesty International also challenged the government to adopt the recommendations of the United Nations review to prove its commitment in improving the human rights situation in the country.
rights activists, Hermogenes Esperon, KARAPATAN, Gabriela, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, TFC News