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Karapatan bid for protection up for CA decision sans witness presentation

Without hearing witness testimonies, the Court of Appeals (CA) on Tuesday declared submitted for decision a petition by human rights watchdog Karapatan for the protection of its members from alleged threats and attacks.

The justices of the 14th Division prohibited Karapatan and its co-petitioners, women's group Gabriela and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, from presenting witnesses during the first scheduled hearing because they did not have judicial affidavits.

The CA heard the case on orders from the Supreme Court, which issued a writ of amparo and habeas data in favor of the petitioners in response to their request for protection from what they said were "worsening attacks, terrorist-tagging by the Philippine military and the ongoing smear campaign against human rights defenders."

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said the group is "deeply disappointed" by the CA's decision. "We feel that we have not been given a chance to present our evidence and witnesses," she told reporters after the hearing.

Two human rights workers were gunned down in Sorsogon last Saturday. One of them, Ryan Hubilla, was supposed to have been a witness in the case, Palabay said.

Lawyers for the petitioners said they will explore legal remedies.

"Sa tingin namin, meron nang precedent for how petitions for writ of amparo should be tried and heard before the Court of Appeals and I believe that should be the procedure that should be followed especially so that this is also in accord with the internal rules of the Court of Appeals," lawyer Ephraim Cortez said.

Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, a respondent in the case who attended the hearing, called the petitioners' work "sloppy" in light of the absence of witnesses' judicial affidavits.

"I'm surprised, parang their work is just really sloppy work to me. I'm not a lawyer but my father was a lawyer, he was a justice," she told reporters in an interview.

"It did seem na really sloppy, that they did not come prepared so I was really curious what are they really here for. Are they really here for legitimate grievances or are they here for media mileage?" she added.

But Josa Deinla, another lawyer for the petitioners, said they have been preparing "feverishly" for the case.

She added that they have not received a copy of the government's return of the writ, the response to their petition, because the Office of the Solicitor General sent it via registered mail.

Meanwhile, Palabay also expressed disappointment after she said government lawyers alleged Hubilla and Nelly Bagasala, the two human rights workers who were killed in Sorsogon, were the victims of purging by communist rebels.

Palabay said the communist purge being blamed for the killings is a "long-rehashed line" that she claimed has been disproven by independent experts.

"These allegations are unfounded and has no bases at all in terms of the investigation and evidence gathered," she said in a separate statement.

For her part, Badoy, in claiming there is no link between government officials' statements and threats against and killings of human rights defenders, said "...we also know for a fact that the CPP-NPA, they've had their purgings."

When asked if she was suggesting the killings were carried out by communist rebels, Badoy said: "I would think about it, it could be a real possibility to me, because government naman will not do that, definitely not."

Another petition for legal protection, one filed by the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, is pending before the appeals court. — RSJ, GMA News