‘Drop the trumped-up charges’

‘Drop the trumped-up charges’

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) has said it is extremely alarmed over the revival of charges against the “Southern Tagalog 72” or “ST 72”.

The ST 72 is the collective name for church people, lawyers, human rights workers and leaders of people’s organisations who were charged by the military with fabricated cases of multiple murders and frustrated multiple murders.

This is the third time that charges were filed against the 72.

The two previous cases were dismissed.

The Rev. Fr Rex Reyes, Jr, General Secretary of the NCCP, said, “This new case is clearly a form of harassment. It further reflects the gnawing thought that when it comes to human rights, there seems to be no difference between the old and new dispensations.

“What makes this very alarming for the NCCP is that two church people are on the list: Pastor Mel Abesamis of the United Methodist Church (UMC) and Pastor Edwin Egar of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

“The UMC and UCCP are member churches of the NCCP.

“Moreover, this issue strikes home because Pastor Egar is responsible for the Advocacy and Campaign component of the NCCP’s Human Rights Program, “Defending the Defenders”, aimed at strengthening human rights defenders and bettering the situation of victims and families of human rights violations, which is also funded by the European Union under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).

“He had previous stints with NCCP, as Human Rights Program Regional Coordinator for South Luzon from 2003-2004 and later on was a volunteer staff of our Relief and Rehabilitation services.

“In February 11, 2009, Pastor Egar was abducted by armed men in Macalamcam, Rosario, Batangas. It was only through the quick response of his church as well as friends in the human rights community that he was released a few hours later.  Since then he and his family had to relocate.

“When the cases against him were dismissed, the NCCP took him in again as staff member to help him rebuild his life and enable him to continue in his ministry for peace and human rights.

“This new case against him and the 71 others, one of who has since died, is reliving a nightmare.

“We condemn in the strongest terms this latest attempt to harass human rights defenders and leaders of people’s organisations critical of government policies and the continuing climate of impunity.

“Would that the government focus on ensuring that justice be accorded to victims of human rights violations by prosecuting violators and not going after those who are working for human rights like Pastor Egar.

“In the name of justice, we urge that these charges be withdrawn immediately.”

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