“If they can kill lawyers, then they can practically kill anybody.”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA – One lawyer is killed per month.
This is how the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) illustrated the escalating attacks against lawyers and judges in the Philippines during a colloquium held March 14 at the IBP Auditorium, Ortigas Center.
IBP President Abdiel Fajardo said that since 2016, there were 38 reported and documented killings of lawyers in the country.
The 38th victim, Rex Jasper Lopoz, was gunned down in Tagum City, March 13, a day before the Colloquium on the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers: Focus on the Philippines.
“If they can kill lawyers, then they can practically kill anybody,” senatorial candidate and NUPL Chairperson Neri Colmenares said.
At least 26 incidents of other forms of attacks and threats have been recorded, according to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
Role of lawyers undermined
Both the IBP and NUPL pointed out how the Duterte administration undermines the role of lawyers and the underscored the attack on the legal profession.
According to the United Nation’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the government should ensure that efficient procedures and responsive mechanisms for effective and equal access to lawyers are provided for all persons within their territory.
Furthermore, the government shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without any type of hindrance, harassment, intimidation, and interference from third party and even the government itself.
Duterte publicly warned he would include lawyers of drug suspects in his so-called “war on drugs.”
On August 23, 2016, Rogelio Bato Jr., lawyer of a drug suspect, was shot dead by an unidentified assailant in Tacloban.
Fajardo said that new lawyers are afraid to handle drug cases for fear of being subjected to the same treatment as their clients.
“We should not be attacked on the basis of the cases we handle,” said Fajardo.
Judge Felix Reyes Jr., president of the Philippine Judges Association (PJA), admitted that some prosecutors, for fear of antagonizing police officers, proceed with filing drug cases even without probable cause.
Duterte also threatened human rights advocates, even ordering the police to shoot human rights activists who are ‘obstructing justice.’
“Just because you wish to protect your client, just because you’re going to demand a search warrant, just because you demand a warrant of arrest! That’s obstruction of justice!” Colmenares said.
Colmenares said the attacks against lawyers are state-sponsored. He said victims were publicly vilified by the President himself; the killings were committed as if the perpetrators were not afraid of being caught; and, there was complete lack of interest to investigate the killings.
Day of the Endangered Lawyer Foundation Director Hans Gaasbeek of the Netherlands aired the same sentiment. Gaasbeek emphasized the need for governments to educate not only the people but also the police on the role of lawyers.
The colloquium, sponsored mainly by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), International Association of Lawyers (UIA) and Day of Endangered Lawyers Foundation (DELF), is part of the International Delegation of Lawyers to the Philippines.
The delegation will conduct its own investigation on the reasons and causes of various forms of attacks against Filipino lawyers. They will be holding a series of meetings in Metro Manila and Iloilo and will publicly share their initial insights and views on Monday, March 18. (With reports from Ronalyn V. Olea)
Erratum: The correct name of UIA is International Association of Lawyers, not Union of International Advocates as earlier reported.
Want to read stories like this? More lawyers are braving it out, facing difficult conditions to defend and advance human rights. Help us keep up with their activities and cases.