MANILA - Activists accused of "indoctrinating" and holding in custody a supposedly missing student on Saturday slammed an anti-insurgency task force and the lawyer who filed a petition before the Supreme Court for misusing the case to go after leftist groups.
Jayroven Balais, Chary Delos Reyes and Bianca Gasos, all leaders of Anakbayan, told the Supreme Court in a filing that Alicia Jasper Lucena or AJ was never "missing," contrary to the claim of her parents Relissa and Francis Lucena.
"AJ is clearly not a missing person whose life, liberty and security are being violated or threatened with violation by respondents. She simply does not want to be found by petitioners and forced to return to their custody," they said.
They also asked that lawyer Ferdinand Topacio and the petitioners be disciplined for filing an "inane and frivolous suit."
The Lucena couple filed a writ of amparo and habeas corpus petition before the high court on May 11 against the 3 Anakbayan leaders, Anakbayan National Chair Alex Danday, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago and lawyer Maria Kristina Conti, claiming their daughter was "radicalized and indoctrinated" and recruited by Anakbayan when she was still a minor, which led to her disappearance.
They were assisted by Topacio and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
The Supreme Court, on May 19, required the respondents to explain why no writs should be issued.
A writ of amparo protects a person from threats or violations to life, liberty and security committed by a public official or employee or by a private individual or entity, while a writ of habeas corpus compels respondents to present the illegally-detained person in court.
Citing AJ's affidavit earlier submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the 3 activists said AJ left her family's house in July 2019 because of her parents.
“Hindi ako ‘missing.’ Umalis ako talaga sa bahay dahil hindi ko na kinakaya ang ginagawa niyang pang-aabuso, pagkulong at pangre-repress sa akin," AJ was quoted as saying in her affidavit.
(I am not missing. I really left home because I cannot anymore take the abuse, detention and repression against me.)
In her affidavit, AJ said she ran away twice before -- in February and March 2019 -- and was locked inside her room by her parents each time she returned because they disapproved of her joining Anakbayan.
The affidavit was first submitted to the DOJ as evidence to refute kidnapping, trafficking, child abuse and a slew of other raps that the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) filed against the same activists. NTF-ELCAC assisted in filing the complaint.
AJ's disappearance was the subject of a Senate investigation in August 2019, but she surfaced a week later at a press conference at the House of Representatives, accusing the military and the police of using her family’s problem in advancing their agenda.
In a Facebook post, she denied being coerced and said she joined Anakbayan voluntarily.
But in the SC petition, the Lucena couple insisted AJ could not have given her consent.
"Her being a minor then, and her whole being, mentally, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, have clearly been abused, violated, and exploited. Her life and security threatened, and her liberty clearly restrained," they said.
AJ turned 18 in July 2019.
The activists called out this "wild leaps of logic."
"Petitioners would impress upon the Honorable Court that AJ was radicalized and indoctrinated to be a 'communist terrorist' when she joined Anakbayan. But as opposed to being a violation of rights (which respondents could not have done in the first place as private citizens), respondents’ activism falls within the ambit of their political freedom and freedom of association," they argued.
"It is not an advocacy for lawless action or 'violent extremism.' On the contrary, it is a lawful exercise of freedoms in our liberal democracy," they added.
The activists pointed out that a writ of amparo petition is the wrong remedy because aside from the absence of any violation or threats to AJ's life, liberty and security, there was also no government participation in AJ's alleged disappearance.
The writ of amparo, a remedy against extralegal killings and enforced disappearances, requires government involvement as an indispensable element, according to the activists.
"The hallmark of State participation differentiates a case of enforced disappearance case from an ordinary case of a missing person. Absent any allegation and proof that would link respondents to some covert police, military or governmental operation, the requirement of state participation is lacking in this case," they said.
Aside from seeking the dismissal of the petition, the activists asked the high tribunal to impose disciplinary sanctions on Topacio for "bringing a manifestly inane and palpably frivolous suit that is completely bereft of merit."
"No lawyer worth his salt will advise the filing of a petition for amparo against private citizens who are not acting on behalf of the State, and habeas corpus for persons who have already lost rightful custody over the subject, while another application for judicial relief on substantially the same issues and circumstances is pending in another tribunal," they said, accusing the lawyer of malpractice.
They also claimed the Lucena couple filed a "malicious" suit and allowed themselves to be used in the anti-insurgency campaign.
NTF-ELCAC WITCH HUNT
Activists accused the NTF-ELCAC of using a family matter to go after leftist groups.
NTF-ELCAC, they said, is behind the groups Hands Off Our Children and League of Parents in the Philippines, where Relissa is a member.
It was NTF-ELCAC who arranged for media interviews with Relissa at the Department of Justice and who asked for coverage for the filing of the Lucenas' petition before the SC early this month.
NTF-ELCAC announced the filing of the petition and the release of the SC show cause order on its Facebook page and no less than National Security Adviser and NTF-ELCAC vice-chair Hermogenes Esperon Jr. touted the show cause order as a "milestone against the ongoing campaign against communist terrorists."
“It is improper and insensitive for the NTF-ELCAC to exploit a personal family matter for their propaganda, sweepingly red-tagging organizations and individuals in a malicious attempt to malign and discredit them,” Danday and Conti said in their separate submission.
Both insisted AJ was neither abducted nor deprived of her liberty.
In a statement, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, which represents the respondents, condemned NTF-ELCAC for turning the case into "a witch hunt for members of Anakbayan and the Kabataan Partylist, which are legitimate organizations advancing the Filipino youth’s aspirations for national democracy."
NUPL added: "The petition is really a thinly-veiled stunt filed and prepared at the behest of the NTF-ELCAC to exploit the vulnerabilities and miseries of the uninformed, misinformed and disinformed."
For her part, Elago said: "It is then crystal clear that the suits against respondents are simply attacks against their fundamental rights and freedoms, which have no basis in law.