Seven lawyers slain in RP this year
The Philippines has the notorious distinction of being the second most dangerous country for journalists topped only by Iraq. It is also one of the most dangerous places for workers and political activists. Now it has been adjudged as the most dangerous place for lawyers, said the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) – a broad group of lawyers, law students, and paralegals – in the wake of the killing of human rights lawyer Gil Gojol and his driver Danilo France in Gubat, Sorsogon (623 kms south of Manila) last Dec. 12.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The Philippines is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world for lawyers.
This is the conclusion reached by the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) – a broad group of lawyers, law students, and paralegals – in the wake of the killing of human rights lawyer Gil Gojol and his driver Danilo France in Gubat, Sorsogon (623 kms south of Manila) last Dec. 12.
“Attorney Gojol has been a human rights lawyer in Bicol since the 1990s and was lawyer to Bicol farmers and many political prisoners charged by the military with acts of rebellion, including Sotero Llamas who was also gunned down this year,” said lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares, CODAL spokesman, in a statement received by Bulatlat. “He was also counsel to members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement) and Bayan Muna (People First). He has been in the so-called ‘order of battle’ of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) for sometime now due to his militant advocacy for human rights.
Based on reports reaching Bulatlat, Gojol had just come from a court hearing and was on his way to Sorsogon City when four motorcycle-riding men shot at his van.
France was the first to be hit, and the vehicle was brought to a stop. Gojol tried to flee from the assailants but bullets hit him in the back and buttocks, causing him to fall on his face. He was then shot in the head, and died instantly.
“Nine lawyers, one judge and one law student were shot and killed in 2005,” said lawyer Neri Javier Colmenares, CODAL spokesman, in a statement received by Bulatlat. “Twelve judges have been killed under the administration of President Gloria Arroyo, and many of these remain unsolved until today.”
The CODAL spokesman also said that a total of seven lawyers have been killed in the Philippines in 2006 alone. They are:
• Atty. Gil Gojol who was killed with his driver in Gubat, Sorsogon about 200 meters from a detachment of the 22nd IB of the Philippine Army;
• Atty. Nestor Ballacillo who was killed with son, Benedict in Metro Manila;
• Atty. Froilan Villacorta Siobal who was killed with his wife, Erlinda, in Alaminos, Pangasinan;
• Atty. Rogelio Montero, who was shot together with his son who is a state prosecutor in Bulacan;
• Atty. Carlo Magno Umingga, whose wife was also wounded in the attack in Pangasinan;
• Prosecutor Godofredo Pacenio, who was killed in Agusan del Norte; and
• Judge Sahara Silongon who was killed in Cotabato City.
“No less reprehensible is the killing of Asst. Solicitor General Nestor Ballacillo who was the second lawyer involved in the Piatco-NAIA 3 expropriation case to have been assassinated,” Colmenares added.
Gojol’s killing has also been condemned by the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL).
“Attorney Gojol was a human rights and labor lawyer since the 1990s,” said Raf Jespers, IAPL secretary-general, in a separate statement also received by Bulatlat. “He handled almost all the human rights cases in his area, including those of minors who were unjustly imprisoned. He was the legal counsel of the Association of Democratic Labor Organizations-Kilusang Mayo Uno (ADLO-KMU), He was also the former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Sorsogon Chapter.”
“Our information is that he is the 20th lawyer to be killed by reason of the exercise of the profession or advocacy since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took power in 2001,” Jespers added. “More than ten judges have also been brutally murdered during the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.”
Jespers also hit the Philippine government for the killings of lawyers and what he described as “other dastardly attacks” on members of the legal profession. “Aside from strong indications that these political killings in the Philippines are the handiwork of state security forces, it is the responsibility of the Philippine government to protect its citizens in general and its lawyers in particular,” the IAPL secretary-general said.
This is not the first time that an international body has taken the Arroyo government to task for the killings of lawyers and judges.
An international fact-finding mission participated in by members of the Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), as well as the IAPL among other foreign lawyers’ groups noted that in the 15 documented killings of lawyers and judges since 2001 – when Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising – to June 2006, not one case had been solved. This finding by the lawyers’ fact-finding mission was cited by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group Amnesty International in its Aug. 15 report, Philippines: Political Killings, Human Rights, and the Peace Process.
“The attack against lawyers, including human rights lawyers, is a serious threat not only on the practice of law but also on civil liberties as well, since it deprives the poor and marginalized sectors access to and representation in our courts,” Colmenares said. “Almost all of these attacks have remained unsolved as the police continue to fail to arrest the perpetrators, thereby resulting in impunity and unabated killings. There has been no satisfactory development in the case of Judge (Henry) Guingoyon who was killed almost one year ago. The government has failed to come up with serious leads in the killings of lawyers and activists since 2001.”
Jespers called on all lawyers and lawyers’ organizations worldwide to express their protest against the killings of lawyers to the Philippine government. He also urged them “to protect” their Philippine colleagues.(Bulatlat.com)