Despite public statements from Arroyo denouncing extrajudicial killings, there is a gap between her rhetoric and what it has done to address the killings, said the group from the Netherlands and Belgium called Lawyers for Lawyers. Whatever initiatives she has implemented have failed to produce actual results, it said.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
Human Rights Watch
MANILA — The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has failed to effectively address the killings of lawyers and judges in the Philippines, an independent group of lawyers and judges from the Netherlands and Belgium reported this week.
The group, called Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L), said that despite public statements from Arroyo denouncing extrajudicial killings, there is a gap between her rhetoric and what it has done to address the killings. Whatever initiatives she has implemented have failed to produce actual results, it said.
An eight-member delegation from L4L visited the Philippines in November 2008 to investigate the attacks on lawyers and judges. That mission is a follow-up to a similar investigation organized in June 2006.
The group found that, since 2001, the year Arroyo took power, 22 lawyers and 15 judges have been killed. Of these attacks, only one perpetrator has been convicted so far. “Impunity still seems to be the rule rather than the exception,” the group said in a statement sent to Bulatlat.
L4L said the government’s claim of success in solving these killings remains unproven. In fact, it said, a new form of attack on lawyers has emerged: the filing of trumped-up charges.
These atrocities contribute, L4L said, reinforce the prevalence of impunity in the Philippines, undermine the rule of law, and hamper the exercise of the legal profession.
L4L met with Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, and Leandro Despouy, the UN’s special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, on June 4 and 5 to discuss the findings and recommendations of the fact-finding mission. The report of the mission was also presented on June 4 to the Philippine ambassador in the Netherlands, Romeo Arguelles.
Lack of Trust
The fact-finding team said lawyers, judges, their relatives and civil-society organizations are skeptical of the government’s sincerity to address extrajudicial killings.
“There is a strong belief that the government’s measures only exist on paper or serve as ‘window dressing’ so as to satisfy the international community that measures were taken to address the
killings,” it said.
The mission said that witnesses and family members of slain lawyers and judges are still hesitant to come forward out of fear for their lives and distrust of authorities. The team conducted interviews with several witnesses and families of slain lawyers and judges.
In the cases that were investigated by L4L’s first mission in 2006, little or no progress has been made so far. In many other cases, the mission found out that the accused are still at large or not yet identified. Some of the cases have not progressed for more than a year.
The international mission said that the authorities have failed to analyze the killings of lawyers and judges in the context of other killings that have occurred in the Philippines since 2001, including the killings of members of leftist groups. As a result, it said, “there is still no systematic cross-reference of cases with similarities in modus operandi or forensic findings. The fact that differing data were shown in their presentations also indicate that there is little or no coordination between the various task forces and agencies concerned,” L4L said.
The mission met with representatives of various government agencies such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Justice (DoJ), Philippine National Police (PNP), Task Force Usig, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Human Rights (CHR), members of the judiciary, and legislators.