By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Up to the last hearing on the petitions for writ of amparo and for habeas data filed by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the respondents who have red tagged and vilified the rights lawyers did not set foot inside the courtroom to prove their allegations.
During the hearing this afternoon at the Court of Appeals 15th Division, Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Miranda told the justices that the military generals and other respondents chose not to testify in court.
Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), counsel of the NUPL, lamented that the respondents did not provide explanation for the serious allegations hurled against NUPL members.
Not even Major General Antonio Parlade, Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy chief of staff for civil military operations, the most persistent in linking the NUPL with communists and in accusing the organization of “terrorist activities” waived his right to confront the allegations of the petitioners.
Parlade’s red-tagging has further endangered the security of their members, the NUPL said.
“From Day 1, the respondents only issued general denials, resorting to technicalities instead of answering our petition,” Pastores said during the hearing.
Miranda replied that it’s “their strategy.”
“Don’t compel us,” Miranda told Pastores.
In a statement, NUPL President Edre Olalia said that although the actions of the military generals did not come as a surprise, he said “it still speaks volumes of the reckless disregard for fairplay and reason, much less basic rules of evidence and credibility.”
“The problem is that this means they can spew unlimited innuendos and pillory at will, aided and abetted by their defenders who seem to be infected with the virus of arrogance through gratuitous remarks sprinkled all over their court submissions,” Olalia said.
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) also refused to cross examine the petitioners’ last two witnesses– Neri Javier Colmenares and Rene Estocapio. Last week, the OSG did not also cross examine Clarissa Ramos, widow of slain human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos.
Citing technicalities, Miranda objected to the presentation of the two witnesses. She said that a Supreme Court resolution states that judicial affidavits must be filed five days before the scheduled hearing. Colmenares and Estocapio submitted their affidavits July 16.
Assistant Solicitor General Marlon Bosantog also claimed that the presentation of Colmenares and Estocapio would violate their right to procedural and substantive due process.
To which Pastores reacted, “It is wrong to say that they have been denied such right. They were given the chance to cross examine the witnesses.”
“The right to life, security and liberty of the petitioners is primordial over any technicalities,” Pastores added.
The justices allowed Colmenares, NUPL chairperson, and Estocapio, president of NUPL- Panay chapter, to affirm their testimonies filed in court.
Estocapio maintained that the refusal to cross examine him and the other witnesses “is an implied admission that they have factual basis for this petition.”
“They evaded tackling the factual matters, dwelled on technicalities because they want to hide the truth,” Estocapio told Bulatlat in an interview. “They don’t want us to speak.”
Both lawyers said in their affidavits that they are being subjected to surveillance, threats and harassment for handling cases of persons perceived to be enemies of the state.
Among the evidence submitted by the petitioners include posters naming Estocapio as among “lawyers of terrorists,” which were circulated in Iloilo City.
Estocapio, who traveled all the way from Iloilo, said the OSG’s so-called strategy “exposes their own malicious view of the proceeding.”
Estocapio explained that the administration, through the OSG, ignores their plight.
“The government has been remiss in its obligation to protect us, lawyers. If lawyers are hindered in the practice of their profession, then what kind of justice system do we have in this country,” Estocapio said.
Still, Estocapio hopes that the CA would decide in their favor.
Six NUPL members have testified in court. They also submitted documents to prove the violations to their right to life, liberty and security.
The petition is deemed submitted for resolution within ten days.