MANILA—Cabinet members and generals named in the writ of amparo petition filed by lawyers’ group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) did not attend Thursday’s hearing at the Court of Appeals, prompting CA justices to require their presence in the next hearings scheduled in July.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Council director Hermogenes Esperon, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, deputy chief of staff for civil military operations Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade, and 3 other generals were named respondents in NUPL’s petition for writ of amparo and habeas data, accused of imposing a policy of threats and red-tagging against the lawyers’ group, along with President Rodrigo Duterte.
The others are deputy commander for intelligence Brig. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, intelligence service chief Maj. Gen. Erwin Bernard Neri, and Philippine Army commanding general Lt. Gen. Macairog Alberto.
But when the justices from the CA Special 15th Division looked for them at the start of the hearing on Thursday, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and the AFP spokesperson gave different answers.
Representatives from the OSG said they assumed the presence of the cabinet members and generals were not required since it was the NUPL who was scheduled to present evidence while AFP Spokesperson B/Gen. Edgard Arevalo said Parlade was attending a meeting.
“My perception is that they were quite upset,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said of the justices’ reaction.
“Nagkaroon ng back and forth because the Court was asking for the reason why none of the generals were present. It turns out that they have different conflicting reasons why they were not present.”
The absence of the respondents prompted CA Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Pedro Corales and Germano Legaspi of the CA Special 15th Division to require the presence of Lorenzana, Esperon and the 5 generals in the hearings set on July 11, 16 and 18, when the NUPL is expected to present additional witnesses. The President, on the other hand, enjoys immunity from suit.
“Kasi it’s important for the respondents to be present because the allegations in the petition pertain to the threats, to the right to life and liberty of the petitioners. These are factual allegations that need the presence of the respondents that’s why the Court required their presence,” Rachel Pastores, NUPL’s lawyer, explained to reporters after the hearing.
During the hearing, the NUPL presented Olalia and member Czarina Golda Musni as their first witnesses.
The OSG sought to discredit the NUPL’s plea for the issuance of writs of amparo and habeas data by questioning the group’s and the individual petitioners’ personality to file the petition.
The OSG’s Marlon Bosantog pointed out, by Olalia’s admission, that no specific acts amounting to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances were committed against him personally that could be attributed to the respondents.
Olalia, however, insisted that an attack against one member is an attack against all members of the NUPL. He said the Court should look at the totality and pattern of the attacks, citing the case of slain NUPL member Ben Ramos who was labeled a communist in posters in Negros before he was eventually killed.
He added that Parlade’s statements linking the group to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) placed their lives in danger as these could be treated by his subordinates and even civilians as policy, thus, creating a a so-called chilling effect among their members.
Musni testified that her inclusion in the leaflets distributed in Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon labeling her as a member of the CPP-NPA had caused anxiety and fear, blaming the distribution of leaflets to agents of the military.
“[E]ven though there’s no specific acts mentioned in the petition, considering that there are high-ranking officers with subordinates and they made the policies, then they can be liable pursuant to the principle of command responsibility. That is our position,” Pastores told reporters.
Bosantog suggested on cross-examination that the threats were “more imaginary than real,” with threats against lawyers’ lives an inherent part of the profession and raising at one point the possibility that CPP-NPA themselves distributed the leaflets.
Olalia and Musni rejected both remarks.
On Thursday, the NUPL also asked for a temporary protection order, claiming Parlade had continued making statements against the group even after the petition was filed.
The court gave the OSG 5 days to file its comment and the same period for the NUPL to respond.
“ ’Yun lang ang kaya naming gawin. Mga lawyers lang kami, libro at bolpen lang ang hawak. Pero ’pag patuloy ang atake sa aming clients, we have no recourse but to ask again for the court’s protection,” Pastores said.
The NUPL filed the petition for writ of amparo and habeas data on April 15.
The Supreme Court en banc issued the writ on May 3 requiring respondents to file a verified return and comment on the petition.
The OSG responded on May 8 dismissing the petition as nothing but a “frantic and desperate cry for undue attention.”