MANILA - The National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) has formally withdrawn from handling the terrorism case involving the two Aetas following their decision to change their counsel and withdraw their bid to join the petitions against the Anti-Terror Law.
It wasn't so long ago when the families of two Aetas, accused of terrorism, sought the help of human rights groups, complaining about the supposed torture the two accused suffered allegedly at the hands of the military.
With the help of the NUPL, they ran to the Supreme Court to intervene in the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
No less than Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen suggested the case of the Aetas as a possible actual case that could warrant judicial review of the new law.
While the Supreme Court eventually junked their petition, Solicitor General Jose Calida attempted to drop a bombshell on Tuesday's oral arguments, claiming the Aetas were forced to file the petition in exchange for P1,000 - a claim NUPL denied.
Calida also claimed the two Aetas are now being represented by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Public Attorney's Office.
On Wednesday, the anti-insurgency task force streamed an online press conference wherein the two Aetas spoke for the first time about their choice of lawyers, suggesting they were caught in a tug of war between two sides.
"Hindi namin alam kung saan kami papanig dahil dala-dalawa ang gumagalaw. Pero naisipan namin ng bayaw ko, mas ano tayo sa PAO at NCIP dun na lang tayo, ipirmi na natin ang isip natin na doon na, baka sila ang tutulong sa atin para mapadali tayo makalaya," Japer Gurung said.
On Thursday, NUPL formally withdrew from handling the case, saying they respect their clients' choice.
"Siyempre medyo nasaktan tayo dun sa sitwasyon dahil sinasabi nila na pinagsamantalahan natin yung minorya, mga kapatid nating minoryang Aeta. as a matter of fact, from the very start kami tumutulong sa kanila. Ang maliwanag na bagay sa mga pangyayari simpleng sintido kumon lang," NUPL Central Luzon lawyer Bonifacio Cruz, Jr. said.
"Sino ba ang umaresto, sino ba ang nagfile ng kaso sa mga minorya na diumano’y lumabag na sinasabi nilang Anti Terrorism Act of 2020 at sino ba nagkulong sa kanila? Bagkus ang NUPL ay naririto para sa kanilang paglaya. Kami po ay nagbigay serbisyo sa kanila na walang kaukulang bayad," he added.
Cruz also accused the NCIP and PAO of unethical conduct.
Citing logbook records, NUPL said NCIP visited the Aetas thrice with PAO and Public Information Agency on different occasions without their knowledge.
"We are contemplating with that possible action. Parang ambulance chasing, without our knowledge, they talked to our client, without courtesy man lang na pasintabi na kinakausap namin. Ang common denominator sana namin, palayin ang mga Aeta," Cruz said.
But NCIP Director Marlon Bosantog claimed they have been authorized as collaborating counsel of one of the accused since last year, blaming instead the NUPL for allegedly deceiving the Aetas to create an actual case before the Supreme Court.
"Initial na lawyer nila was NCIP before NUPL came into the picture...It’s wrong for NUPL to say we don’t have the proper authority or we unduly represented ourselves or interfered with their representation," Bosantog said.
"During the Supreme Court, it was as if they have an actual case and suddenly they are filing a petition in intervention. If you look at the picture, sila ang nanggagamit," he claimed.
The NUPL, however, questioned the timing of government agencies stepping in, claiming they were trying to control the situation to save the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The NCIP presscon of the two Aetas on Wednesday was streamed on the Facebook page of the anti-insurgency task force that openly supports the Anti-Terrorism Act.
But Bosantog, who is also the legal cluster spokesperson of the anti-insurgency task force, sees no conflict of interest in facilitating a presscon for two persons accused of the very same law they are trying to promote.
He said they will file disbarment cases against NUPL lawyers.
For Cruz, it only takes common sense to see what's really going on. He also issued a challenge to the anti-insurgency task force.
"Para maganda sa kinabukasan ng kapatid natin Aeta, why don’t they drop the case instead? Bakit di na lang natin palayain eh talagang wala namang kasalanan yung tao?" he said.