By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The national group of lawyers are set to gather the legal eagles of the country tomorrow, Nov. 23, as they sound the call on members of the bar to uphold the rule of law and help families of victims of drug-related extrajudicial killings.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) initiated the human rights summit, dubbed “Pagtugon sa Hamon: A Call to the Rule of Law, Access to Justice and Human Rights,” to be held on Nov. 23 and 24 at the SMX Convention Center, SM Aura, Taguig.
The summit aims to gather legal professionals to bring about ideas and collaborations to help address the legal concerns related to the government’s War on Drugs and its impact on the marginalized sector.
“Now more than ever, the legal profession is behooved not only to participate, but to actively intervene in the perceived disregard of the rule of law and the seeming attack on democratic institutions,” said IBP national president Abdiel Dab Elijah Fajardo, in a press conference on Monday, Nov. 20.
“The legal profession is obliged not to allow defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system,” said Fajardo.
The IBP is joined by other lawyers’ groups: Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Alternative Law Groups (ALG), Artikulo Tres, Center for International Law (Centerlaw), National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Association of Law Students of the Philippines and the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS).
The groups stressed the Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR), which states: “A lawyer should uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal process.”
‘Speak truth to power’
During the press conference, Roberto Cadiz of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said that the challenge now to human rights defenders and legal profession is “to be brave.”
“To speak truth to power, not to come up with excuses on why we cannot do this or that. To go beyond legalese. To avoid legal gobbledygook. To realize the relevance of our profession on this part of our history,” he said.
He said Duterte won the 2016 presidential election with the promise to eradicate the country’s illegal drugs problem using the “Davao model.”
“We all know what the Davao model is. Those who have read the Alston report would be very familiar with the methods used in Davao by the then Mayor and now President,” he said.
In 2010, Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions came to investigate human rights violations in the country. Alston also probed the Davao Death Squad which he cited in his report to the UN Human Rights Council.
Cadiz said Duterte “was successful in creating a narrative that human rights is an obstacle to his anti-drug campaign. And those who seek to uphold the rule of law and the institutions that they represent will be attacked mercilessly.”
“Strange as it seems, a false dichotomy in human rights and rule of law in the one hand, and good governance on the other, seems to have been established to the minds of many,” he added.
Cadiz cited attacks on democratic institutions, such as threats to abolish the CHR, the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, which the House committee on justice tackles today to determine probable cause. There is also a threat to also file an impeachment case against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
He said lawyers have to stand behind the truth, which cannot be shaken by tyrants.
Lawyers in full force
Fajardo said the summit also aims to enable lawyers to provide accessible legal services to victims of human rights violations and their families, especially the poor.
“While many lawyers decry these atrocities, no concrete actions are being taken due to lack of channels to reach out to the victims or lack of capacity to take on the peculiarities that accompany the handling of these kind of cases,” Fajardo said.
The lawyers’ groups have initiated capacity-building workshops in communities to educate people how to document cases of extrajudicial killing and form quick reaction units. Some also have assisted families of drug suspects killed in the government’s war on drugs.
Gil Anthony Aquino of the Centerlaw said his group is handling the case of Efren Morillo, the lone survivor of the Oplan Tokhang operation in Payatas on Aug. 21, 2016. Police shot dead at least four men in the incident. Morillo survived by playing dead. In January, the group petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of amparo and temporary protection order for Morillo and the families of his four other companions. Both were granted by the SC.
They also petitioned for writ of amparo in the SC for families of slain victims of Oplan Tokhang in 26 villages in San Andres Bukid in Manila.
Neri Colmenares, former Bayan Muna partylist representative and NUPL chairperson said they are handling five cases of victims related Oplan Tokhang. He cited the case of the family of slain victim Luis Bonifacio, who filed criminal and administrative cases against policemen before the office of Ombudsman in March.
Police claimed that Bonifacio and his son Gabriel Lois were killed when they fought law enforcers in a “buy-bust” operation on Sept. 15, 2016. But the family of the victims claimed that police barged into their house, dragged the victims out and then shot them dead.
Colmenares said IBP’s initiative is timely as the Duterte administration assailed human rights advocates who call for an end to extrajudicial killings amid the government’s war on illegal drugs. He said there are only a few lawyers’ groups who provide legal aid, and the IBP-initiated summit may increase those who help victims’ families.
Marlon Manuel of ALG said they also want to tap lawyers who are members of law firms. “We believe that there are lawyers who are ready to help,” he said.
Aileen Almora of IDEALS said they hope lawyers would participate in the summit so that they can come up with a mechanism to help the families of the victims, so that others will also find the courage to come forward and file cases.
Centerlaw’s Aquino said that amid the current situation, lawyers have to choose where to stand. “That is why, I think all the law groups here stick to what we know, the Constitution and to justice,” he added.