Philippine Court Acquits Religious Sisters of Perjury Charges

Human rights groups denounced the perjury charge as part of harassment to silence the nuns and their companions from their strong advocacy for human rights.

Newsroom (09/01/2023 12:02 PM, Gaudium Press) — A court in the Philippine capital Manila acquitted ten members of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, including two religious nuns, from perjury charges on Jan. 9

Missionary of the Sisters of Mary Sister Emma Cupin and Good Shepherd Sister Elenita Belardo was among the human rights activists whose perjury charge was junked by the court in Quezon City of Manila “on the ground of reasonable doubt.”

A perjury charge refers to a criminal act that occurs when a person lies or makes statements that are not truthful while under oath.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte’s national security adviser Hermohenes Esperon filed a case against the nuns in 2019 for allegedly lying under oath that their group – the Rural Missionary of the Philippines – was a non-stock, non-profit organization.

Human rights groups condemned the perjury charge as part of harassment to silence the nuns and their companions from their strong advocacy for human rights.

“Those cases were filed to silence church organizers because they (government operatives) know the poor are empowered by the mission of the Catholic Church. When the poor are empowered, they begin to question the abuses done to them by the rich and the powerful,” Karapatan member Carlo Frias told reporters.

On Jan. 8, religious nuns and ecumenical groups staged a prayer rally for the acquittal of the ten accused in the perjury case as the court delivered the verdict. They also participated in a Mass and lit candles.

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“Human rights defenders, church people, and sisters from different religious congregations gathered on Sunday morning in celebration of a Mass with special intentions in Good Shepherd Convent, Quezon City,” the Good Shepherd Sisters said in a statement.

After the Mass, the sisters rang bells in the streets in public witness of support for human rights defenders calling for a favourable decision.

Rural Missionary of the Philippines is a Church-based national organization comprising priests, nuns, and laypersons working for the village poor.

Their associates include Gabriela Women’s Group and Karapatan Alliance Philippines, a left-leaning non-governmental organization and human rights alliance.

Gabriela Group welcomed the acquittal of human rights defenders.

“We hope this positive decision augurs well for the calls to stop the attacks against human rights defenders in the country,” the group said.

Gabriela remains “steadfast in its work of defending the oppressed, especially disempowered and impoverished women,” it added.

Human rights advocates protested outside the Quezon City Hall of Justice in Manila while the verdict was being read.

“We stayed and we prayed. Let it be known to the world that there is hope in the justice system in the Philippines. One cannot just file malicious charges or cases to silence those who fight for human rights,” Karapatan member Jenny Oliveros said.

The religious sisters said their charges were “malicious” and intended to harass those who championed the cause of the poor.

The sisters and ecumenical pastors had prayed together to thank God for the acquittal and to stop the alleged “state attacks.”

“By all appearances, the cases were in retaliation for seeking legal protection from State attacks, harassment, and other threats. They want to silence us because they do not want the truth to come out. We thank the Lord for this little victory,” the Good Shepherd Sister Concep Bellosillo said.

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