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Karapatan, Gabriela seek Supreme Court protection from red-tagging

Human rights watchdog Karapatan, women's group Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) have asked the Supreme Court (SC) for protection from alleged threats to their members' lives amid accusations that they are fronts of communist rebels.

Assisted by the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), whose own petition for protection progressed last week, the three groups asked the Court to issue a writ of amparo and habeas data in what they said was a "response to the worsening attacks, terrorist-tagging by the Philippine military and the ongoing smear campaign against human rights defenders."

The writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is threatened or violated by public officials or private persons.

The writ of habeas data covers similar threats or violations, but by persons who are gathering, collecting, or storing data or personal information of the aggrieved party.

Karapatan claimed at least 48 of its human rights workers have been killed by state forces between 2001 and 2019. It claimed that most of its members and even former colleagues experience "threats, surveillance, harassment, red-tagging and judicial harassment."

President Rodrigo Duterte himself tagged Karapatan as a "communist front" in six recorded and live telecast speeches, Karapatan claimed. It added that military officials had gone on diplomatic missions to red-tag them, Ibon International, the RMP, and community schools in Mindanao.

"These attacks can only come from those who see our work and advocacy for peoples' rights, our monitoring and documentation of human rights violations, our direct assistance to victims and kin, and our provision of platforms for human rights education as threats to the current status quo," Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.

"Human rights defense and activism is not a crime; it is a right protected by international covenants and agreements as well as the Philippine Constitution," she added.

NUPL lawyers earlier filed a similar petition before the High Court. Last Friday, the justices issued a writ of amparo in their favor and ordered the government to comment on their allegations.

The NUPL case has been referred to the Court of Appeals for hearing on May 14. — RSJ, GMA News