Justice and Truth Will Prevail

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  • It was a brave decision. It was the right decision. Even if it took three years to make. Ever the
    optimist, I felt it was a good start to the New Year of 2023.

    I am referring to the Jan 9, 2023 decision of Judge Aimee Alcera of the Municipal Trial Court
    Branch 139 to acquit 10 human rights defenders of perjury charges filed by former National
    Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. The reason was simple: Esperon failed to “establish
    beyond reasonable doubt that all accused made a willful and deliberate assertion of a
    falsehood.”

    Esperon filed those charges in 2019 (!) to strike back at the human rights defenders who have
    made many complaints against him, the executive department, and the military under the
    government of Rodrigo Duterte. Readers may be familiar with him since he was the National
    Security Adviser (NSA) Adviser of then President Duterte, AFP Chief of Staff under then
    President Gloria Arroyo and he led the government’s counterinsurgency program which has been
    responsible for many gross violations of human rights documented by the human rights alliance
    Karapatan.

    This was not the first time that Esperon had filed charges in court only to have them thrown out
    by the court. This is the third time!

    In 2006, he filed murder charges against more than 70 activists and NDFP peace consultants in
    the infamous Hilongos’ case. In 2021, after 14 years (!), Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina dismissed
    the murder charges. As reported in Bulatlat, Judge Bunyi-Medina wrote in her decision that
    “there is neither documentary evidence of the alleged 15 victims’ death nor was there forensic
    evidence presented before the court.” She also wrote that “The testimonies of the prosecution
    witnesses on the identities of the skeletal remains are full of inconsistencies, highly unbelievable,
    and clearly perjured.”

    In August 2022, Bulatlat won a preliminary injunction against the blocking of its news website,
    ordered by the government’s National Telecommunications Commission and the National
    Security Council. In the decision of Judge Dolly Bolante-Prado, which clearly upheld press
    freedom, it said that “To the Court, any limitation or restriction in the exercise of one’s right, no
    matter the extent, is a form of deprivation and clearly a violation of such right.”

    In addition to the use of red-tagging, Esperon and the NTF-ELCAC clearly uses the filing of
    charges to harass, intimidate, and to silence critics and people’s organizations. In these three
    cases, three women judges of the court stood firm against the prosecution in the exercise of law
    and justice, and under these challenging times, these are courageous acts. When the many
    unjustly accused refuse to be silenced, to back down but instead push back, these are
    demonstrations of courage that are required repeatedly, because the retaliations never stop,
    because the impunity is always there.

    In the courts and in the court of people’s public opinion, those who dare to use the law against
    the people must be exposed as liars and criminals, they who hide behind their government
    badges or uniforms to harm the people.

    I would like to think that justice will prevail and that these liars will have their day in court,
    however long it takes.

    In the meantime, congratulations to the 10 human rights defenders for standing firm.
    They are: Karapatan Council members Cristina Palabay, Elisa Lubi, Roneo Clamor, Edita
    Burgos, Reylan Vergara, Rev. Wilfredo Ruazol, Kiri Dalena, and Jose Mari Callueng;
    GABRIELA’s human rights coordinator, Gertrudes Libang; GABRIELA’s chairperson and
    former secretary general, Joan May Salvador; Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP)
    National Coordinator Sr. Elenita Belardo; and RMP Northern Mindanao Region Coordinator Sr.
    Emma Cupin

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