“If the government doesn’t want us to give services to victims of human rights violations, that is no justification to open us to attacks.”
BY MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — The matrix of personalities behind a purported “oust Duterte” plot allegedly involving lawyers and journalists is clearly a lie that Malacañang knows cannot stand in court, the leaders of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said in a press conference in Quezon City today.
Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Zarate said this matrix would’ve been funny except that the bombshell, as Malacañang calls it, is a declaration that it is open season to even more grievous rights violations. The so-called bombshell is “disturbing” because it shows there is no letup in threats against journalists and lawyers, Rep. Zarate said at the press conference.
He explained that although the matrix could not be relied upon in court, as in fact Malacañang itself yesterday confirmed that they will not file a case in relation to their matrix, “it is designed to stop us from practicing our profession,” Zarate said. Bayan Muna Partylist Representative Zarate is both a lawyer and a former journalist.
The NUPL is one of the first organizations in the country that called attention to the Duterte regime’s tokhang operations. They issued their first policy statement in defense of human rights of the ‘suspects’ being targeted in tokhang as early as July 4, 2016. At the time, although Duterte himself has been in Malacañang for only four days, his declaration of war on drugs have preceded his inauguration.
Recently, the Makabayan coalition that includes Bayan Muna filed a case against the Chico River loan agreement with China. Right after the press conference, its lawyers conferred about the consumer rights likely being violated by the Manila Water and Sewerage System (MWSS) and Manila Water in the ongoing water interruption.
The NUPL has also filed for a writ of amparo with the Supreme Court over a week ago in response to threats coming from the Philippine military over the lawyers’ defense of activists and mass leaders.
“If the government doesn’t want us to give services to victims of human rights violations, that is no justification to open us to attacks,” said human rights lawyer and Senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares.
In the Philippines, it has been an observable trend, said the NUPL, that if you’re an activist, a dissenter, a critic, an oppositionist, you are vilified as an alleged terrorist, or as a communist. Unfortunately what followed the “disinfomation” are human rights violations such as filing of trumped up cases, illegal arrests, surveillance and harassment, or worse, extra-judicial killing.
Warding off the chilling effect of the ‘phantom’ matrix
Bayan Muna Rep. Zarate said Malacañang’s spokesman Salvador Panelo may act like a court jester asking the media and consequently the public to “just believe” an undocumented, unverified document — just because it came from the President. “But they are weaponizing this to send a clear message,” Zarate said.
Its chilling effect in all likelihood will not deter the lawyers and the journalists allegedly involved. They will continue serving their clients – the critics, dissenters and the masses aggrieved and victimized by the Duterte government’s pet projects. The journalists would likely continue with their investigative reports.
“It’s more addressed to Duterte’s supporters, and to the other media groups lately becoming more critical of President Duterte’s policies and decisions,” Zarate explained. “The real message is, ‘Be quiet or else it will be your name on the list next time.’”
The people’s lawyers said the people really have to condemn “this assault on democratic practices.”
They described Panelo and Duterte as “a disgrace to the law profession” as the two blithely swept aside legal processes and verification.
Cases to be filed
Lawyer Edwin dela Cruz of the NUPL draws his own matrix comparing Duterte’s make-believe plots to Marcos’ so-called left-right conspiracy and bogus assassination attempt on former Defense Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile in the 70s.
Marcos had used the unverified left-right conspiracy and Enrile slay try as his pretext for declaring Martial Law, Dela Cruz said. The similarity is worrying because President Duterte has issued various announcements alluding to his desire to declare martial law, or a “revolutionary” government with Martial Law powers. This, as opposition to his loan agreements with China, economic impositions to the masses such as higher taxes (TRAIN law) amid the lowest job generation ever, are threatening his government with greater peoples protests
If not to be a pretext for further curtailment of people’s rights to speak and protest, the dubious matrix, said Bayan Muna Zarate, has to be opposed by everyone because, as of this writing, this has also served like a smokescreen for Duterte.
“It is saddening, and we should all counter this,” Zarate said. “Everyone is talking about the matrix when the country has a lot of problems which we should all be discussing now instead of this supposed plot. It’s like a smokescreen for the real issues of the day.”
What is tragic here, Zarate added, is that the Duterte camp is doing its best to bring electoral victory to its senatorial candidates who he said won’t even discuss the real issues of the day and instead are just singing and dancing onstage. He urged the public to resist this “diversionary tactic,” to oppose the fear-mongering and attacks on human rights, and to delve deeply again to the real issues of the day. Among others, these issues include livelihood concerns and worsening poverty. “That’s the undeniable situation everyone is feeling more acutely these days.”