‘Pressured to surrender’ as rebels, 2 UCCP pastors seek Supreme Court protection

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 28 2022 05:37 PM | Updated as of Nov 28 2022 07:12 PM

Pastors of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) hold a prayer session in front of the Supreme Court in Manila on Nov. 28, 2022. This was ahead of the filing of a petition seeking protection for 2 of its pastors and a lay leader from alleged red-tagging and surveillance by the Philippine Army in Batangas. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News
Pastors of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) hold a prayer session in front of the Supreme Court in Manila on Nov. 28, 2022. This was ahead of the filing of a petition seeking protection for 2 of its pastors and a lay leader from alleged red-tagging and surveillance by the Philippine Army in Batangas. Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) — Two Christian pastors and a lay leader have sought the protection of the Supreme Court against alleged red-tagging by members of the Philippine Army’s 59th Infantry Battalion (59th IB) in Batangas.

United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastors Rev. Edwin Egar, his wife Rev. Julieta Egar, and former barangay captain Ronald Ramos filed a petition for a writ of amparo on Monday, asking the high court to prohibit members of the military from harassing them or from going near them. 

A petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to those whose rights to life, liberty and security are violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

Pastor Edwin and Ronald claimed members of the 59th IB visited their houses and accused them of “giving aid to communist insurgents,” without showing proof.

They were included in a list of alleged New People’s Army rebels given to the barangay by the military and were allegedly pressured to surrender on Nov. 3 this year.

Ronald said he received information from an informant that he was placed under surveillance and that his house would be searched by military and police personnel, where firearms and explosives will be planted and he and his brother would supposedly be killed through a fabricated shootout. 

This would allegedly resemble the Bloody Sunday incident in March 2021 where 9 activists were killed in simultaneous police and military pre-dawn operations in Batangas, Cavite and Rizal. 

As a result, Ronald had to temporarily leave his house.

Pastor Edwin also decided to seek shelter elsewhere, leaving his wife Julieta alone in their house and his constituency, without a pastor. 

“Petitioners could not bear to stay in their homes after they knew that they could be surveilled by Respondents 59th IB, who are trained military officers, from any point of view at any time of the day especially in the context of having received text messages that killing them was an option for Respondents 59th IB,” the petition said.

“Will staying mean getting shot by a sniper rifle through the window? Will staying mean that trained men in civilian outfits could at any time come in and ransack their house and kill them? Even if uniformed military officers came, would firearms, explosives, or even insurgent-related contraband be easily planted in their homes? These lingering questions in the minds of Petitioners are only some of the questions they asked themselves due to the genuine fear that they were feeling,” it added.

Julieta said she, too, was subjected to surveillance even at night by 3 motorcycle riders, with one of them trying to break into the house. 

“Ako po ay takot na takot. Sa totoo lamang, nanginginig po ako sa takot. Kaya laang, may mga dyakonesa, pastor, bishop namin at saka na mga lawyer na nagpapalakas ng aming loob dahil naniniwala kami na ang Saligang Batas natin sa Piipinas ay kailangang i-uphold,” she told the media during the filing of the petition on Monday.

(I am terrified. In truth, I am shaking in fear. But our pastor, bishop, and lawyers embolden us because we believe that the Philippine Constitution should be upheld.)

Petitioners eventually sought the help of the Commission on Human Rights in conducting a voluntary house search out of fear that they might be subjected to house raids and planted evidence.

They argued the “totality of circumstances” show they are entitled to the privilege of the writ of amparo.

“Due to these illegal military surveillance, unwarranted visits, threats of illegal searches, and the outright threat of a deadly military operation akin to the Bloody Sunday operations, the Respondents officers and enlisted personnel of the 59th IB have implanted a genuine and crippling fear in the minds of Petitioners,” the petition said.

“Now, the Petitioners are living in fear wondering whether tomorrow will be their last. They have also yet to be able to return to their homes for fear that instead of presiding in a safe haven, they would be endangering themselves more by being open targets for the Respondents officers and enlisted personnel of the 59th IB,” it added.

Named as respondents to the petition were Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro, Philippine Army commanding general Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner, Jr., PA 2nd Infantry Division commanding officer Maj. Gen. Roberto Capulong, and 59th IB commander Lt. Col. Ernesto Teneza, Jr.

Some members of the 59th IB were also named — Sgt. Ronald Dalo, Sgt. John Granpil, Pfc. Borge Ebol, Roy Dela Peña, “Bong” Samela, a certain Lt. Taro, and some unidentified personnel.

Col. Jorry Baclor, public affairs chief of the military, said they have yet to receive a copy of the petition.

"In the meantime, we will look at the allegations and will answer in the proper forum," he said.

The 59th Infantry “Protector” Battalion operates in the first and send districts of Quezon province and in the whole of Batangas. 

Petitioners claimed that the 59th IB, on its Facebook page, publicly red-tagged Pastor Edwin, accusing him of not cooperating with authorities.

“Ano ba ang dahilan kung bakit ayaw ninyong itakwil ang mga teroristang grupo? Bakit ba naiilang kayong sumumpang hindi kailanman magsusuporta rito? Kung wala naman kayong alam sa mga berdugo, aba’y bakit tila ayaw niyang makipag-ugnayan sa mga tapat ninyong sundalo,” the Nov. 7 Facebook post said.

(Why do you refuse to denounce terrorist groups? Why to you hesitate to vow that you will never support them? If you know nothing about these butchers, why does it seem that you don't want to cooperate with your soldiers?)

Citing United Nations documents and opinions of SC justices, petitioners underscored the “deadly effect” of red-tagging.

“The relationship of the ‘tag’ and the ‘threat’ therefore is not one of mere conjecture. On the contrary, amidst the bleak record of individuals associated with purported ‘enemies of the state’ becoming the next victim of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, red-tagging in and of itself constitutes the threat to life, liberty, and security,” they said.

The Supreme Court, in March last year, issued a rare, strongly-worded statement following the red-tagging of one of its own judges.

“The court condemns in the strongest sense, every instance where a lawyer is threatened or killed and where a judge is threatened and unfairly labeled. We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles and speculate on the worth of human lives,” it said.

The petitioners are represented by CenterLaw.

Lawyer Gilbert Andres, CenterLaw’s executive director, challenged the Marcos administration to stop red-tagging.

“Real democracy is not insecure. Real democracy will actually look for other points of view, will not be afraid of criticism, will not be afraid of calling against injustice and against oppression,” he told the media.

“We actually demand from the Marcos administration to stop the program of red-tagging across the nation,” he said.

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