This translates to an average of seven lawyers killed every year.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Seventy three judges and lawyers have been killed in the last 10 years, according to the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
In a forum entitled Lawyers in the Line of Fire: Tales from Survivors, NUPL’s Melanie Pinlac revealed that from 2011 to April 22, 2021 at least 11 judges, nine prosecutors, six lawyers in government service, and 47 lawyers in private practice (five were public interest and human rights lawyers) were killed.
This translates to an average of seven lawyers killed every year.
This information was submitted by NUPL to the Supreme Court (SC) last April 23 after the release of its statement a month ago, condemning the killing of lawyers and judges and calling on concerned organizations to submit vetted documentation of threats and related incidents.
NUPL also noted that they have recorded a total of 129 work-related killings from 1984 to 2021.
The killings, they said, intensified under the watch of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Of the 129 killed from 1984, fifty-four happened under the Duterte administration with an average of 11 killings per year or almost one per month. The worst was in 2018 with 16 lawyers and judges killed across the country. This include red-tagged human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos who was killed by motorcycle-riding men in Negros Occidental on Nov. 6,2019.
Most of these killings remain unsolved.
Of the 73 work-related killings, the alleged perpetrators of 21 cases have been identified, according to NUPL. Suspects in 15 of the 21 cases have been arrested and/or murder complaints have been filed.
But so far, only one conviction has been made and this is on the case of lawyer Xerxes Balios Camacho, former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Northern Samar Chapter who was killed on Aug. 18, 2012.
“Not a single perpetrator has been identified in the remaining 52 incidents of killing of lawyers and judges,” NUPL pointed out in their submission to the SC.
Other forms of attacks
Aside from the killings, NUPL has recorded 104 incidents of other forms of attacks against the legal profession such as frustrated or attempted killing, vilification/labelling, threats, harassment, and intimidation in the last 10 years.
These incidents involved 145 judges and lawyers, most of whom handle human rights and public interest cases.
Of the 145, one hundred seven are private practitioners, 55 of whom are engaged in public interest and human rights lawyering; 25 are government lawyers, and 13 are judges.
Of these, NUPL recorded 50 incidents of red-tagging and vilification, 49 involved public interest and human rights lawyers. These lawyers are members of law organizations, mostly from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and NUPL and its affiliates Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and Public Interest Law Center (PILC).
NUPL also recorded 42 incidents of harassment and vilification of lawyers’ groups and legal institutions.
State-agents as perpetrators
In the reported killings, nine involved state agents and government officials.
In other forms of attacks against the legal profession, state agents were also allegedly involved in 54 incidents.
These include two attempted killings; 30 incidents of vilification; and 25 incidents of surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and threats.
Fourteen cases of vilification were perpetrated by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and its spokespersons Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade and Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy.
There are also 10 incidents of filing of trumped-up criminal charges against lawyers. This includes NUPL and Public Interest Law Center (PILC) lawyer Maria Kristina Conti and Neri Colmenares who were among the respondents in the writ of amparo and writ of habeas corpus filed by Relisa and Francis Lucena at the Supreme Court. This petition was junked by the SC last year and also by the Department of Justice.
NUPL’s Katherine Panguban was also charged with kidnapping for assisting the mother of a minor in claiming her son from the custody of the Philippine National Police in Western Visayas.
All incidents documented
Reacting to the data presented, Evalyn Ursua said there is a clear pattern on the attacks against lawyers and judges. This begins with vilification, followed by threats and then the filing of trumped-up charges.
“All these are happening in the context of the culture of impunity” she said.
She added that there is no lack of documentation and publicity on the patterns of attacks against lawyers and judges.
“In fact, there have been a lot of investigations, findings and recommendations that have been submitted to the Philippine government, including the executive branch, regarding these attacks and what could be done to address these attacks,” she said.
Ursua refers to independent investigations done by lawyers groups in the past years such as the international delegation of lawyers who gathered data regarding the attacks on lawyers and judges in 2019.
Despite this, she noted that there has been no serious response from the government regarding the incident of attacks against lawyers.
With this, Ursua urged the people and colleagues to continue to pressure the Supreme Court to take this matter seriously.
“After the March 23 statement, I haven’t heard anything blatant in relation to attacks against lawyers so maybe it had an impact. So I think the challenge is how to continue the pressure on the SC to do its job, and its job is to protect us lawyers so we can perform our role accordingly in the administration of justice,” Ursua said.
Colmenares meanwhile said the SC, being a co-equal branch of the government, can put the executive branch to task “because lawyers, just like judges, are officers of the court too.”
“We hope that the SC will up the ante here considering that this has been going on for so many years and nothing much has happened,” Colmenares said.
Colmenares also said that they “hope that there will be reforms – structural or systemic reforms initiated by the court to make justice more accessible to the people. And for lawyers to be protected from the abuse.”
NUPL President Edre Olalia, meanwhile, said that lawyers will not give up despite the attacks against their ranks.
“You may attack us for all you want but we will always fight,” he said.
“The line of lawyers and law students who will carry on the baton is long and winding. And that long queue leads to the pantry of justice – justice for our fallen colleagues and all of us in the line of fire. And most of all justice for the people,” Olalia added.