April 13, 2024

The Free Legal Assistance Group-Cordillera has condemned the intimidation, harassment, and illegal surveillance of activists and lawyers involved in a human rights case at the Baguio Justice Hall on Dec. 14.

Lawyer Reynaldo Cortes, in a statement, said after the hearing on the petition against the terrorist designation of four Cordillera Peoples Alliance leaders Windel Bolinget, Sarah Abellon-Alikes, Jennifer Awingan, and Stephen Tauli, an armed man in civilian attire was noticed taking photographs of the clients and their counsels inside the Justice Hall.

Cortes said the man was requested to halt what he was doing but he refused to stop. With this, the group asked assistance from the Baguio City Police Office and court security, who apprehended the person. The man was identified as Patrolman Maruel Baniwas Benito of the City Intelligence Unit of the BCPO.

“This act is not only an attack against the clients but likewise an insult and a direct assault against the lawyers and our very own judicial system and processes,” Cortes said in a press statement.  

The clients were assisted by several lawyers from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and FLAG lawyers Jose Molintas and Ryan James Solano.

Cortes, who also heads the Reynaldo A. Cortes Law Office, which handles the case, said the act is a human rights violation against those who seek reprieve before the courts and is an interference in the performance of a lawyer’s duty towards their client as spelled out under the constitution and the rules of court.

He said the act is alarming considering that the clients have been made to suffer from a variety of prior acts of intimidation, harassment, and violence.

On June 7, the Anti-Terrorism Council passed Resolution 41 identifying the four CPA leaders as terrorists. The press release was published on a national broadsheet on July 10. 

The four Cordilleran activists are long-time leaders of the rights-based group and who previously faced rebellion charges by government agencies and have also reported various forms of attacks. – Ofelia C. Empian