The Court of Appeals (CA) has sustained its earlier decision dismissing the appeal of several officers and members of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) for the issuance of a writ of amparo against the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict-NTF-ELCAC) and other law enforcement agencies.
In a 16-page resolution, the CA’s former17th Division through Associate Justice Angeline Mary Quimpo-Sale did not give weight to petitioners argument that it set the bar “too high for any aggrieved citizen to seek succor from the courts in times of threats to his life and liberty” when it denied their petition for a writ of amparo.
The CPA is a corporation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, with the primary purpose of upholding the collective rights and welfare of the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera.
The petitioners led by CPA chairperson Windel Bolinget claimed that they have been individually subjected to various acts by the respondents that have threatened their liberty and put safety at risk.
These acts include the relentless red-tagging and vilification by “State forces” and unknown entities in public place and social media posts such as Facebook and community meetings; the issuance of Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (RLECC) Resolution paving the way for the conduct of house visitations of individuals identified as associated or members of communist front organizations (CFO); and visitations, stalking, surveillance, and harassment allegedly perpetrated by the officers of the respondents NTF-ELCAC, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), Philippine Army (PA), Department of Interior and Local Government-Cordillera Administrative Region (DILG-CAR).
The petitioners also complained about the encampment by the AFP in indigenous villages, residential houses and use of civilian facilities or structures and the filing of baseless charges against some of the petitioners that were eventually dismissed.
In a ruling issued on October 24, 2022, the CA denied the petition for the failure of the petitioners to present sufficient evidence that would warrant the issuance of a writ of amparo.
“With all the foregoing, there is no substantial evidence of actual or imminent threat to petitioners’ life, liberty or security,” the CA ruled.
“Even if the different grounds be taken together for each petitioner, none of the supporting affidavits and documents compellingly show that the threat to petitioners’ rights to life, liberty and security is actual, imminent or continuing,” it said.
In their motion for reconsideration (MR), the petitioners alleged that the sheer volume of screenshots attached to their affidavits proves that the acts of red-tagging are real and several posts on Facebook were authored and shared by the respondents.
Although the Facebook posts were made two years ago, the petitioners insisted that this does not invalidate the existence of present, imminent or actual threat to the life, liberty or security of the petitioners.
The petitioner added that the Facebook posts were made at the height of pandemic lockdown, thus, they could not immediately seek legal action against the alleged acts of the respondents.
In a resolution last April 11, 2023 but was made public on Tuesday, the CA denied the petitioners MR, noting that the “sheer volume” of screenshot attached to their affidavits “does not automatically amount to substantial evidence proving that the Facebook posts were made by or under the direction of the respondents.”
“There is nothing in the screenshots that would support petitioners’ conclusion that the Facebook posts are directly connected with the six respondents,” the CA held.
The appellate court also ruled that the fact that the Facebook posts were made two years ago is vital to the determination of the existence of present, imminent or actual threat to the life, liberty or security of petitioners.
“If petitioners actually felt threatened by the Facebook posts, they should have reported the matter immediately for investigation and should not have waited after two years only to file a petition for the issuance of writ of amparo before this Court,” the CA stressed.
The CA also said the pandemic lockdown cannot be used as a valid excuse by the petitioners to justify their lack of effort to investigate and determine the identity of those managing the Facebook accounts and pages where the alleged red-tagging posts appeared.
“The Court cannot just issue a writ of amparo on the basis of an assumption that the subject Facebook accounts and pages were made by or under the direction of the six respondents,” the appellate court ruled.
Writ of Amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security has been violated or under threat. Rey E. Requejo