MANILA, Philippines — Southeast Asian lawmakers involved in human rights issues voiced concern over the charges filed by police against Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate and other activist leaders for allegedly instigating protesters to attack authorities at a rally against a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Zarate, Anakbayan’s Vencer Crisostomo, Renato Reyes Jr. of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna, and Einstein Recedes of the Student Christian Movement, were accused of holding a rally without a permit under Section 13(a) of the Public Assembly Act, and direct assault with physical injury and resistance and disobedience to a person in authority under Articles 148 and 158 of the Revised Penal Code, for the November 13 rally to protest Trump’s presence at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila.
Reacting to the charges, Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said “going after Representative Zarate and his colleagues for this appears to be a politically motivated action and a violation of their rights to freely express themselves in a public manner.”
“Requiring a permit to hold a demonstration is little more than a way for the authorities to deny the right to freedom of assembly. Furthermore, holding organizers accountable for violence at demonstrations without any proof that they were, in fact, inciting violence amounts to a serious threat to their fundamental rights,” he added.
Santiago also said the time between the protest and the filing of the case “contributes to further doubts about the validity of the charges.”
“If Rep. Zarate and his colleagues were indeed responsible for inciting violence against the authorities, why wouldn’t these charges have been filed right after the incident?” he asked.
At the same time, Santiago said the charges appeared to be part of a pattern of “judicial harassment against other opposition lawmakers in the Philippines in the past year,” including the arrest and detention of Senator Lila de Lima “on politically motivated drug trafficking charges” and “dubious wiretapping charges last October” against Senator Risa Hontiveros.
“These cases also reflect a wider regional pattern, with opposition leaders currently in prison in Cambodia and Malaysia,” the APHR chairman noted.
“Amidst the wider context of opposition lawmakers targeted with trumped-up charges in the Philippines — and regionally — it is all the more important that we look carefully at the case against Rep. Zarate and ensure that the legal tools of the state are not weaponized against its critics,” he said.