12/06/2019, 17.15
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Activists slam government for harassing nun forced to post bail to avoid prison

Sister Elenita Belardo is a member and former leader of an advocacy group branded by the Filipino government as a front for the underground Communist movement. National security adviser accuses the nun of lying about the group’s legal status. For the group, the authorities want to stop them from “speaking about widespread human rights violations.”

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – An elderly Filipino nun had to post bail for 18,000 pesos (US0) this morning to avoid jail pending her trial over perjury charges filed by national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Sister Elenita Belardo (picture 1), an 80-year-old member of the Religious of the Good Shepherd, went before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court with her lawyers (picture 2) and supporters.

Rights activists gathered outside the courthouse (picture 3) to protest Esperon’s action, calling it "pure harassment" against the nun.

The story goes back to May and concerns primarily activists from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP). Once led by Sister Elenita, the religious group helps the most marginalised and poorest rural communities.

Under President Rodrigo Duterte, Filipino authorities have repeatedly accused the RMP and other Catholic associations of being "fronts" for the country’s underground Communist movement.

One of RMP members, 72-year-old Australian Sister Patricia Anne Fox Superior of the Religious of Our Lady of Sion, was expelled from the country in November 2018 after the president accused her of "partisan political activities".

Seven months ago, members of the RMP and two other human rights groups, 11 people in all, signed a petition asking for protection against government harassment, citing Esperon and senior officers of the armed forces.

The Court of Appeal rejected their request. Two months later, the Mr Esperon filed a complaint against the 11 signatories accusing them of making false claims.

After conducting a preliminary investigation, the Quezon City prosecutor's office dismissed the charges against everyone except Sister Elenita. On 8 November, it had an arrest warrant issued against the nun.

Esperon also accused the RMP of falsely claiming that it is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). According to the latter, the registration was revoked in 2003, a claim disputed by the RMP, which says it has papers to prove that it still registered.

“They’ve been spreading these lies,” the nun explained. “This perjury case against us and our co-petitioners aims to turn people’s attention away from the real issue,” she said.

For the RMP, the case “is a reprisal to stop us from speaking about widespread human rights violations” in the country.”

“Ultimately, we know that this is part of the efforts to discredit and vilify our organisation and to impede our missionary work and advocacy for land, justice and peace,” it added.

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