Pastors, church lay leader in outreach work seek protection against military personnel

UPDATE: The Supreme court grants petition for writ of amparo of pastors and church lay leader

The Supreme Court has granted the petition for writ of amparo of United Church of Christ in the Philippines pastors Rev. Edwin Egar, his wife Rev. Julieta Egar, and former Barangay Malacamcam-a captain Ronald Ramos on Dec. 6, Tuesday.

The magistrates also granted the petitioners’ plea for a temporary protection order, effectively prohibiting officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and both named and unnamed personnel of the 59th Infantry “Protector” Battalion (IB) from being within one kilometer radius of the Egars, Ramos, and their families.

The high court also commanded the AFP and the 59th IB to respond to the petition, to show the steps they took to determine the petitioners’ locations and wellbeing, the personnel responsible for the threats suffered by the petitioners, among other questions the military is required to answer.

Read the decision here.

Atty Gilbert Andres with petitioners
Members of Center for International Law (CenterLaw) file a petition for the writ of amparo on behalf of United Church of Christ in the Philippines pastors Rev. Edwin Egar and Rev. Julieta Egar, and lay leader Ronald Ramos. Source: CenterLaw

Fearing for their lives and security, two pastors and a lay leader of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) accused of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA) filed a petition for a writ of amparo before the Supreme Court on Monday against soldiers assigned to the 59th Infantry “Protector” Battalion in Batangas.

In their 62-paged petition filed by lawyers from Center for International Law (CenterLaw), a non-profit group of lawyers fighting for human rights and freedom of expression and of the press, Rev. Edwin Egar and his wife, Rev. Julieta,  and lay leader Ronaldo Ramos, said that while doing ministry work for their church, they were accused of giving aid to communist insurgents by members of the 59th IB “despite the utter lack of evidence.”

A petition for a writ of amparo is an appeal for the protection of constitutional rights. The writ of amparo is a remedy available to anyone whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act and covers extralegal killings, forced disappearances, and threats suffered by any “qualified” persons.

The three petitioners charged that military men stationed in Rosario, Batangas had intimidated and were forcing them to admit they are NPA members and to “surrender.” The soldiers also allegedly threatened to launch military operations against them.

Julieta said in a sworn statement that she had been under surveillance by men in both civilian clothes and uniform as she tried to seek help from local government officials.

“Because of fear, Pastora Julieta left her house and stayed with her sister-in-law. Up until this date, Pastora Julieta and Pastor Edwin have lived separately and have been in hiding. Kap. Ronald has not gone back home with his wife and children. Thus, Petitioners have been displaced from their respective homes and continue to seek sanctuary due to genuine fear for their lives,” the document stated.

Petition for the Writ of Am… by VERA Files

The petitioners said that on Oct. 31, five military officers in civilian clothes went to Ramos’s house and accused him and Edwin of supporting the NPA, citing their work in the Bondoc Peninsula, Quezon Province.  They were ordered to “voluntarily surrender” to the unit.

At the height of the pandemic, Edwin noted that he led relief operations in the area alongside the 59th IB, which even made a tarpaulin for the pastor.

But the soldiers said they had documents and evidence against both Edwin and Ramos which they refused to show.   Two days later, Ramos received anonymous text messages telling him to be wary in the coming days.  The messages also warned that he would be a victim of a “military operation” where damning evidence such as guns and explosives would be planted in his house to make it appear that he fought back against the military men.  This would be cited as the reason for shooting him dead.

CenterLaw Gilbert Andres talk to reporters after filing the petition
Rev. Julieta Egar speaks to members of the media. In the petition, Egar testified how she has been subjected to surveillance by men both in uniform and in civilian clothes.

The petitioners asked the high court to issue a temporary protection order prohibiting specific members of the 59th IB from “threatening to commit or committing, personally or through another, any acts violative of the right to life, liberty and security.”

This includes prohibiting any military personnel from the unit to be within one kilometer radius of the petitioners’ residences and places of work.

Ramos and the Egar couple also sought a Supreme Court order for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to conduct an investigation of the seven officers of the 59th Infantry Battalion named in the petition and the enlisted personnel of the unit to determine who are responsible for the unlawful acts committed against them.

In addition, they asked that the officers involved in the petition be reassigned outside of Batangas province.