“If any harm is inflicted on Atty. Dannug-Salucon or to any of her staff or family members, we shall hold the military and the police and Commander-in-Chief President Aquino himself accountable given the documented harassment and surveillance being made against her.” – Edre Olalia, National Union of People’s Lawyers
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) condemned the surveillance and harassment of lawyer Catherine Dannug-Salucon, a human rights lawyer based in the Cordillera region.
“If any harm is inflicted on Atty. Dannug-Salucon or to any of her staff or family members, we shall hold the military and the police and Commander-in-Chief President Aquino himself accountable given the documented harassment and surveillance being made against her,” Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said.
Salucon is a founding member and recently elected national auditor of the NUPL. Her involvement in cases of human rights violations caught the ire of the military, which included her in the watch list for supporting and rendering legal services to alleged members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Among the incidents of surveillance include the following:
1. Three men separately interrogated the vendor that sells rice cakes near Salucon’s office. The vendor was reportedly asked about Salucon’s whereabouts, the people who stays at the office when the lawyer is not around, among others.
“What surprised the vendor, Atty. Salucon was told, was the uniformity of the questions separately asked by the three persons,” the NUPL statement read.
2. A civilian intelligence operative officer from the Criminal Investigative Support of the Philippine National Police – Criminal Investigation and Detection Group went to Salucon’s office asking for the lawyer’s whereabouts.
Salucon received a text message from an investigator of the CIDG requesting for a copy of a human rights case she is handling. The said investigator claimed that he lost his copies. Salucon, however, ignored the text message as it was already the third time that the investigator asked for a copy of the reports he supposedly lost.
4. On Apr. 3, at around 7:30 a.m., a red Honda Wave motorcycle passed by Salucon’s house. Salucon, however, did not get its plate number because it was placed inside a tinted plastic cover.
In a statement, the driver was described to have “dark complexion, with the haircut and demeanor of a military/policemen, with a tattoo at his left arm, wearing a sando shirt and with a pistol bag slung around his shoulder and looked intently at Atty. Salucon’s driver when he passed by.”
The motorcycle driver then made a U-turn to get a better look of Salucon’s driver, the NUPL added in its statement.
”With the brazen killing of her paralegal (William) Bugatti on March 25, her harassment and surveillance by the police and the military and given the military’s involvement in the extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders identified as leftists, Atty. Salucon, although a young fearless and dedicated defender of human rights and lawyer of political prisoners, has all the reasons to be worried. All these is intended to hamper her in the exercise of her profession,” the NUPL said.
Worked with Bugatti
Salucon, according to the NUPL, worked closely with human rights defender and paralegal Bugatti, who was shot dead on Mar. 25, at around 7 p.m. Human rights groups believe that the unidentified gunmen are members of government security forces.
A day before Bugatti was killed, he and Salucon attended a hearing for two political prisoners accused of murder and frustrated murder.
”In this hearing, the prosecution presented its third witness who virtually admitted on cross-examination by Atty. Salucon and during clarificatory questioning by the court that he did not actually see Atty. Salucon’s clients at the scene of the ambush and that he was just shown pictures of them before the hearing,” the NUPL said.
The lawyers’ group said that the witness “failed to divulge the identity of the person who showed him the pictures, prompting Atty. Salucon to task paralegal Bugatti to get the names, ranks and addresses of the prosecution’s witness.”
On the day Bugatti was killed, he arrived at the town’s Hall of Justice early to ensure Salucon’s security and has even told the lawyer to “change her usual routine in attending hearings at the RTC” and “to avoid a pattern by which the military men and the PNP operatives could rely on in their surveillance.”
”A few minutes after Atty. Salucon learned of Bugatti’s death, she learned from a very reliable source that the Regional Intelligence Division of the Philippine National Police (PNP) through the PNP Provincial issued a directive to PNP Burgos, Isabela, Atty. Salucon’s home town, to conduct a background investigation and to confirm Atty. Salucon as a “Red Lawyer,” the NUPL said, “She further learned that she is being secretly followed by Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) members.”
On the side of the poor
Salucon, along with other human rights lawyers, will “never retreat from being on the side of the poor, the oppressed and the underdog. But who shall ultimately defend the defenders?” Olalia said.
Olalia added that, “We, at the NUPL, once again condemn the cowardice of the government’s security forces in choosing to futilely silence its perceived enemies instead of protecting their rights, including their right to dissent, as they are obliged to do so under the Constitution.”
“Members of the bench and of the bar, with greater risk faced by those who choose to tread the path of alternative lawyering for the poor and the oppressed, are not exempted from the government security forces’ cowardice and impunity by those who cannot give a good and fair fight,” Olalia said.