“State forces will always be there to call us into submission, to prevent us from performing our sworn duties as lawyers. But I come to realize that there is no other way to stop the rights violations but to fight. Fight the system that breeds them.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen had to pretend he was dead after unknown assailants repeatedly stabbed him on the night of March 3 along Gen. Luna Street, Iloilo City.
During a webinar organized by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) entitled Lawyers in the Line of Fire: Tales from Survivors held on April 26, Guillen and other human rights lawyers recounted how they survived several forms of harassment because of the work they do.
Guillen was not able to attend the webinar because of security reasons. NUPL Spokesperson Josalee Deinla read excerpts from Guillen’s affidavit during the webinar.
Guillen had just alighted from his vehicle near his home and was getting his bags from the back seat when he noticed that two men – one is stocky and in muscular frame and one appear to be taller and leaner – walking in the street. He waited for them to walk by but one of the men suddenly began to walk towards him followed by the other man.
Guillen noticed that the first man walking towards him is holding something in his right hand. When the man immediately raised his hand, Guillen ran as fast as he could shouting for help.
“I could hear footsteps behind me as I ran. As my bags were dangling loosely from my shoulders I lost my balance and fell to the ground. Then as I was laying on the ground the two men quickly came bearing down on me.”
Guillen tried to defend himself from the assailants by kicking them and covering his head. The man stabbed him multiple times in his neck, head and shoulders.
“I closed my eyes as blows were very painful, then I felt a final blow on my temple followed by something wet trickling down to the left side of my head. My arms and legs immediately stiffened, I stopped shouting kept my eyes closed and pretended to be dead,” he said.
As he lay on the ground, Guillen heard someone shout “Ang bag! Ang bag!” (the bag) He kept his eyes closed until he’s certain that the people around him are bystanders and not the assailants.
Before the attack, Guillen was red-tagged for handing the case of the arrested members of Tumandok tribe last Dec. 30, 2020.
Maria Catherine Dannug Salucon, meanwhile, recalled how his paralegal, William Bugatti, instructed her how to avoid being tailed by suspected intelligence agents on March 25, 2014. Later that day, she received the news that Bugatti was murdered in the very same road they used to take going home.
“The call from Baguio City informing me of the news came like a staccato of gunfire on my mind. The pain I felt like the bullet piercing his heart,” she said.
Salucon, being a member of the NUPL and handling cases of human rights abuses in the Cordillera Region was included in the military’s watch list. Bugatti too was also included in the said list.
Salucon admitter that fear paralyzed her after the killing of Bugatti.
“For weeks I was not able to work properly at the office, as if it’s no longer a safe haven for me. I have to go home early but my residence was not safe even when the driver observed suspicious looking young men secretly surveying our property,” she said.
Even after the high court ordered protection for her, Salucon said the harassment and threats against her persisted. Recently, the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of Cagayan Valley listed her as a lawyer of the New People’s Army.
‘There is no other way but to fight’
“State forces will always be there to call us into submission, to prevent us from performing our sworn duties as lawyers. But I come to realize that there is no other way to stop the rights violations but to fight. Fight the system that breeds them,” Salucon said.
Czarina Musni, secretary general of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), was also red-tagged several times but vowed “to fight along with the people they serve.”
It was on Feb. 22, 2019, her birthday, when Musni received the news that they were tagged as members of the communist groups including her sister and mother, Beverly Selim Musni. She too fears for her life as she knew the dangers of being red-tagged.
Despite this, she would always remember the words of her friends, colleagues and parents who are both lawyers.
Quoting her mother, she said that they “remain unfazed but remain on guard” despite the attacks. She also said that “they take these attacks as our badge of valor.”
“We remain in our unwavering commitment to continue serving those who need us most. We remain constant in our passion to protect the rights of the people even as we have to risk our lives with the people we are defending,” Musni said.
Jobert Pahilga, executive director of Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra) and NUPL’s second assistant secretary general for protection and welfare of lawyers, was also repeatedly labeled as communist even before the Duterte administration.
Last year, Pahilga was repeatedly red-tagged publicly by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s asset, Jeffrey Celiz. He also received threats for handling drug-related cases and warned to stop handling such cases.
“We do not want to become part of the statistics of those activists who were murdered not yet obtained justice for their deaths. We should put a stop to these vicious and dangerous attacks not just lawyers but the Filipino people,” Pahilga said.