“It exposes that ‘hit lists’ often translate to killings.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The killing of another lawyer in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental is proof that red-tagging of rights defenders has dire consequences for their lives and security, says human rights group Karapatan.
On July 23, at around 2:00 p.m. lawyer Anthony Trinidad was shot by unknown assailants. According to his family’s account, Trinidad was on his way home from a hearing. He was with his wife when the incident happened. She was reportedly seriously wounded and currently recovering in the hospital.
Trinidad, a human rights lawyer, received death threats due to the cases he was handling, said National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) Secretary General Ephraim B. Cortez. Some of these were cases of political prisoners in the region.
His name was also included in a hit list allegedly by an anti-communist group called Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Komunista (Kagubak). He was tagged as supporter of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“This only proves as well that the perceived dangers of being arbitrarily, maliciously and baselessly red-tagged are neither imaginary nor contrived, but constitute real threats to life, liberty and security,” said Cortez in a statement condemning the killing of their colleague.
‘Red-tagging a prelude to killing’
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said the killing of Trinidad “highlights the dire consequences of red-tagging on the lives and security of human rights defenders.”
“It exposes that ‘hit lists’ often translate to killings,” Palabay said in a statement.
She said that in the same flyer where Trinidad’s name is included, 15 other names are listed. One of the 15, Haide Flores, also an activist, was gunned down in August 2018. A health worker in Negros who is also included in the list, meanwhile, received death threats in 2017.
Palabay said the same happened to human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos Jr. who was killed in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental on November 6, 2018 and former Escalante Councilor Bernardino Patigas who was gunned down in Escalante City on April 22. Both of them were also included in a poster-hit list labeling them as terrorists. Both were killed by motorcycle-riding men.
“Given this trend, we cannot stress enough the seriousness of red-tagging, especially in the context of heightened repression,” said Palabay, adding that repressive policies like counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapanatagan and Memorandum No. 32 put human rights defenders at great risk.
“The architects behind these attacks are vicious militarists who think they can do whatever they want without any consequences. This is why we are inclined to believe that these attacks are perpetrated by murderers who are protected and coddled by powerful players,” Palabay said.
Palabay said there is a need for protection for human rights defenders. However, the petitions for the writ of amparo and habeas data they filed recently were dismissed by the Court of Appeals.
“Petitions for the writ of amparo and habeas data that we submitted to the Supreme Court were premised on various incidents of red-tagging. Hit lists are enumerations of targets. It is meant to harass, but it is also an explicit threat to one’s life. The fact that these lists include names of community leaders, activists and human rights defenders point to the conclusion that these violations are systematic and methodical,” Palabay said.
Stop the killings
The family of Trinidad said he was a “kind-hearted, soft-spoken person who was willing to go out of his way to help people in need.” As of now, they do not know the motives behind his killings.
They are appealing to the government to help their family in seeking justice and get the perpetrators behind jail as soon as possible.
“This spate of killings in our country and the culture of violence have to stop. We cannot and should not constantly live in fear. Stop the killings,” the family said in a statement.
With Trinidad’s death, the NUPL said, there have been 40 members of the legal profession, judges, prosecutors, and lawyers killed since President Duterte took office in 2016.
“This is a manifestation of the culture of impunity that the administration has been perpetuating. How can we believe the statement of Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo that the Philippine justice system is ‘robust, functional, and very effective’ when lawyers themselves in pursuit of peace and justice are in the line of fire?” said Cortez.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines – Negros Oriental Chapter also expressed strong condemnation to the “horrific and gruesome murder of Trinidad.”
“No words could sufficiently express the disgust and indignation we feel towards the appalling murders of our brothers and sisters in the legal profession,” the IBP-Negros said in a statement.
“We demand justice. We hope that the criminals behind these atrocious acts will be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We continue to pray for the safety and protection of everyone,” the group added.