Lawyers launch 'Manlaban' to fight EJKs

Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 02 2017 04:13 PM | Updated as of Nov 02 2017 06:36 PM

Constitutionalist and former UP College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin and former Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña hold a placard with human rights lawyers during the launch of the ‘Manananggol Laban sa Extra Judicial Killing’ ( Manlaban sa EJK) at the Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City on Thursday. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

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MANILA (UPDATED) - Constitutionalists, human rights lawyers and several associations of law students launched on Thursday the legal alliance "Manlaban" to coordinate different legal challenges to extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and other human rights violations under President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a strongly worded statement, the Mga Manananggol Laban sa Extrajudicial Killings described the conduct of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war as "a blatant disregard of the right to life."

"Thousands of victims who are poor and powerless have been targeted and brutally, nay mercilessly, executed by the state, its agents and proxies with blatant contempt and disregard of due process," the group said. 

The convenors include Sen. Rene Saguisag, the constitutionalist Dean Pacifico Agabin, Edre Olalia and Neri Colmenares of the National Union of People's Lawyers, Dean Jose Manuel Dioko of De La Salle University and chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group; former Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña; Dean Ernesto Maceda Jr of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila; June Ambrosio, a well-known champion of women's and children's rights and head of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) National Center for Legal Aid; former congressman and human rights lawyer Erin Tañada; Roberto Cadiz of the Commission on Human Rights; professors Victoria Avena and Roel Pulido, Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center; Evalyn Ursua and Cleto Villacorta III.

Aside from their individual and organizational legal service programs, the group is pushing the advocacy for human rights by holding forums nationwide and helping in the training of paralegal volunteers.

“We have never had a greater need for paralegal aid,” said La Viña.

The group’s advocacy goes beyond the alleged 12,000 killings since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drug users and sellers, to include all other extra-judicial killings, threats to freedom of expression and attacks against human rights defenders. 

The Duterte administration has repeatedly said the 12,000 figure is wrong and exaggerated. It has insisted that the "real" figure is 3,967 "drug personalities" killed (from July 1, 2016 to October 25, 2017) in presumed-legitimate anti-drug operations where the suspects violently fought back, prompting law enforcers to act in self-defense. 

Olalia also cited the need to challenge an array of authoritarian tactics introduced by the Duterte government, including the police practice of conducting house-to-house drug tests and the use of intelligence “drop boxes” and surveys that violate privacy to boost the list of targeted drug users.

“With violence on all fronts of President Duterte's ‘war’, there is deep fear indeed among the living that death will come, for virtually any one, sooner, at the door,” Manlaban said.
 
It rejected Duterte’s oft-repeated claim that he first needs to wipe out the tentacles of narcotics gangs at the grassroots.
 
“Extrajudicial killings have not worked before and will never work now,” Manlaban stressed.
 
“The effective solution to the drug problem in the Philippines is cleaning up government of officials, including the police and politicians, who protect drug syndicates, effective prosecution of all involved, especially big drug lords, to dry up the supply chain, and inclusive economic development to uplift the people from penury and thus stem the demand for antisocial vices like drugs.”

The lawyers dismissed as a myth the government's claim that its conduct of the drug war has popular support from Filipinos.

All Filipinos should support a campaign against drugs, said La Viña. 

But, he pointed out, surveys consistently show that majority of Filipinos are concerned about extra-judicial killings, scared that they could also fall victim, and believe that Duterte's campaign largely targets poor citizens.

"It is clear that there is no approval of its conduct," he said. 

The lawyers stressed Manlaban’s non-partisan character and urged Filipinos to reject the government stance of equating dissent with destabilization.

“Human rights has no color,” Tañada said in response to a question about Duterte’s claim of a “Yellow-Red” conspiracy.

“Human rights are for everyone,” said La Viña. “We come from different political strains. We do not fear these accusations.”

“Our records speak for us,” said Olalia, adding that the group’s members have consistently fought for human rights since the rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Last month, President Duterte ordered Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign and placed the Philippine National Police (PNP) at the back seat after he suffered a third-quarter drop in his net satisfaction ratings, which analysts linked to his bloody war on drugs. 

'PRESUMPTION OF REGULARITY' 

Acting Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr., meanwhile, said the Palace respects the decision of the lawyers to organize themselves into a group, but he noted that police operations must be accorded presumption of regularity.

“But as far as extra-legal killings is concerned, I came to this job knowing fully well the official position of the President, which he made public after the killing of Kian ‘no,” Roque said, referring to Duterte’s condemnation of the killing of teenager Kian delos Santos by Caloocan cops. 

“He will not tolerate murders. He will only tolerate killings when it is in line with duty and when the engagement is legal and he had, in fact, asked that the police officers involved in the Kian killing be arrested by [Philippine National Police chief] General Bato [Dela Rosa].”