MANILA, Philippines — A human rights lawyer on Friday filed petitions for writs of amparo and habeas data before the Court of Appeals as she sought protection against alleged harassment and surveillance by state forces and her inclusion in a military “watch list.”
The petition filed by lawyer Catherine Dannug Salucon names President Benigno Aquino III, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista, Intelligence Service of the AFP commander General Eduardo Año, Philippine Army chief General Hernando Irriberri, 5th Infantry Division commander General Benito Antonio de Leon, Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima and acting Region 2 police director Chief Superintedent Miguel de Mayo Laurel.
Salucon, a founding member and current auditor of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said she had been told by human rights worker Willliam Bugatti – who accompanied her on May 24 to a hearing of clients accused of being communist rebels and charged with murder and frustrated murder in Lagawe, Ifugao – that he had noticed that “surveillance was being done on them … especially during scheduled hearings for the case in Ifugao.”
The evening of that same day, Bugatti, who worked with the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance-Ifugao, was gunned down in Kiangan town.
Bugatti’s name was number 21 on a purported list of 28 “target persons” supposedly drawn up by Charlie Company of the 86th Infantry (Highlander) Battalion, which is based in Barangay Impugong, Tinoc, Ifugao.
The list described him as a human rights worker yet also tagged him as “utak ng NPA (brains of the New People’s Army).”
Leaders and members of legal activist organizations are regularly and openly accused of having links to the communist revolutionary movement and there have been countless accounts of activists listed in so-called military “orders of battle” who end up victims of extrajudicial killings or enforced disappearances.
It was after learning of Bugatti’s murder that Salucon said she “learned from a very reliable source” that the intelligence division of the Region 2 police office had been ordered to conduct a background check on her as a “Red lawyer” and that she was being followed by ISAFP agents.
She was also informed that her name was in a military “watch list” of “so-called communist terrorist supporters rendering legal services.”
The petition also recounted several incidents during which Salucon and her staff observed unidentified men following her.
“It is strongly believed that the threats and intimidation against Atty. Salucon are due to her involvement in various cases involving human rights violations, including the case pending in RTC, Lagawe. Ifugao, and because of his close association with the NUPL and other human rights groups, it is evident that the respondents are in possession of information which indicate that they have unlawfully compiled information on her, which they used as basis in including her in the “Watch List” of so called “communist supporter” and which erroneously and maliciously tagged her as a “communist lawyer,” the petition said.
“By reason of such data and information, the life, liberty, and security of Atty. Salucon is under constant threat from the respondents and their agents. As in fact, the continued surveillance on Atty. Salucon by the respondents and their agents is an indication that there is an existing threat on her life, liberty and security, and that the respondents are still gathering information on her in violation of her right to privacy and security,” it added.
Salucon asked the appellate court to order the respondents to “disclose … and to provide her with copies of all the facts, information, statements, records, photographs, dossier(s) and all other evidence, documentary or otherwise, pertaining to her in their files or record including the watch list of alleged communist supporters and the Memorandum Order of the PNP;” and “to direct the respondents, and/or any persons acting on their behalf, to destroy any information gathered on Atty. Salucon.”
The human rights group Karapatan said the “harassment and surveillance of … Salucon is not only a violation of her rights but also of the right of the people to counsel, especially the poor who are falsely charged."