Anti-Terror law petitioners, lawyers renew calls for SC to issue TRO after attack on lawyer

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 05 2021 06:45 AM | Updated as of Mar 05 2021 06:47 AM

Petitioners challenge Duterte to condemn attacks

MANILA — A brutal attack on an Iloilo-based lawyer who is among the counsel for petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act has led to renewed calls for the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order against the new law and take a more proactive stance on attacks against lawyers.

“We call on the Supreme Court as the constitutionally-appointed guardian of civil liberties and protector of the legal profesion to take immediate measures to stop these attacks. The issuance of a TRO on the enforcement of the ATA pending the final adjudication of the 37 petitions could help address the worsening situation,” a group of ATA petitioners and lawyers said in a statement released Thursday.

The statement was signed by former Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz, former Rep. Neri Colmenares, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers Secretary General Ephraim Cortez and lawyers Algamar Latiph, Howard Calleja, Evalyn Ursua, Alfredo Molo III and Josalee Deinla, most of whom represented 37 groups of petitioners at the oral arguments in the Supreme Court.

The renewed call came a day after human rights and public interest lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen was attacked by 2 unidentified masked men in Iloilo City Wednesday night, which left him with stab wounds on his neck and face.

A screw driver lodged on his cheek was removed Thursday and Guillen is now in stable condition, according to NUPL-Panay, where he serves as secretary general.

Guillen is a co-counsel in the ATA petition BAYAN filed with the SC.

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ATTACKS ON LAWYERS

NUPL has documented 54 work-related killings of lawyers and judges in the Philippines since July 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte took office.

Guillen, it said, is the 4th NUPL member to have survived an attack and is only the latest victim among lawyers and petitioners who oppose the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“Halos buwan-buwan may pinapatay na abugado. Ilan pa? Hihintayin ba natin na maubos 'yung mga matatapang na abogado, mga abogadong may konsensiya, mga abogadong inaasahan ng mga mahihirap, ng mga inaapi, na mamamatay bago gumawa ng aksyon ang ating Supreme Court at ang ating gobyerno?,” Ursua, lawyer for the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, asked during Thursday’s virtual presser.

Ursua herself had been subjected to surveillance with repeated incidents of motorcycle-riding men taking photos of her house. She also received suspicious phone calls from unknown callers, according to the joint statement.

Two former Supreme Court justices — retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and retired Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales — had previously called the attention of the high court to a social media post of anti-insurgency task force spokesperson and Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. who supposedly red-tagged those opposed to the ATA, warning that “blood debts will be settled.”

The Carpio group urged the Supreme Court to ask the Office of the Solicitor General if Parlade’s post was an official government position and if he really made that post.

Petitioners disclosed in Thursday’s presser that the OSG had asked for more time to file its comment.

Another incident cited in the statement is the red-tagging of lawyer Raffy Aquino, falsely accused of being a Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army member by government security forces.

“These attacks against lawyers must stop as they threaten the practice of the legal profession and the right of the people to judicial remedies,” the joint statement said.

Previous attempts to urge the Supreme Court to issue a TRO went unheeded.

In their last push, petitioners cited numerous incidents after the filing of the 37 petitions challenging the anti-terror measure which they claimed underscore the “chilling effect” of the ATA on the public.

These incidents include the arrest of Lumad teacher Chad Errol Booc in Cebu during a supposed rescue operation of members of an indigenous people’s group in a university in Cebu last month and the “shoot-to-kill” order against Cordillera Peoples Alliance chairperson Windel Bolinget who "surrendered" to the National Bureau of Investigation a month earlier.

Booc and Bolinget are both petitioners against the ATA.

The high court also junked the bid of 2 Aetas to intervene in the Anti-Terror law petitions, even as they claimed direct injury, having been charged with terrorism under the new law.

“We are reiterating our plea for the temporary restraining order. Ito po ay July pa, 2020. Ilang buwan na, hindi po inaaktuhan ng Supreme Court. Siguro ang gusto natin ceasefire muna because until we resolve the issue pending for the Anti-Terror Law, nakita natin na tuloy-tuloy 'yung mga pangyayari,” Calleja, the first to file a petition against ATA, said.

BIG RESPONSIBILITY ON SUPREME COURT

The attack on Guillen, petitioners and lawyers said, underscores the crucial role the Supreme Court plays in addressing attacks on lawyers.

“Ang regulatory body sa aming mga abugado, Supreme Court lang. Under kami sa jurisdiction ng Supreme Court, nadi-discipline kami ng Supreme Court. Supreme Court talaga ang principally dapat may gagawin. Kailangan Supreme Court ang magkocoordinate o magdedemand ng accountability sa Executive branch,” Ursua said, urging an institutional and proactive response from the high court, not after-the-fact.

Integrated Bar of the Philippines National President Domingo Egon Cayosa explained the root of continued attacks on lawyers is the “culture of impunity,” saying most cases involving attacks against lawyers have either languished in courts or the suspects are never caught.

“Abugado na ho 'yan, kaalyado ng korte, officer of the court. So ang panawagan namin sa Supreme Court e atasan naman 'yung mga huwes at 'yung DOJ naman 'yung mga fiscal, na bilis-bilisan, i-prioritize naman ang mga kaso ng mga abugado hindi dahil importante kami…dahil nga sa social at public good na kinakailangan makita ng taumbayan na may hustisya lalong-lalo na sa mga nagpapatakbo ng hustisya,” he said.

Cayosa said that in response to a letter from the IBP raising concerns over lawyers’ killings, the Supreme Court has called for a series of meetings with stakeholders.

NUPL President Edre Olalia said the NUPL already submitted an 8-point recommendation to the high court but there has been no development yet.

These recommendations include a review of the Rule of the Writ of Amparo, intended to be a protective writ but which NUPL and rights group alliance KARAPATAN recently failed to secure from the Court of Appeals against alleged red-tagging and attacks by State forces.

They also seek a special protective remedy for lawyers.

Lagman stressed the effect of these attacks on lawyers on the rule of law.

“When lawyers and judges are criminally assaulted and killed, the majesty of the law is waylaid. When lawyers, who are human rights defenders, are harassed and assassinated, the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights are grossly debased…And when lawyers are imperiled, ordinary citizens are rendered defenseless,” he said.

RESPONSIBLITY OF THE PRESIDENT

But beyond placing the responsibility solely on the Supreme Court, Lagman said the Legislative and Executive branches also have to do their share.

Lagman called for the passage of the human rights defenders act while his colleague, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, earlier said they will file a resolution at the House of Representatives to probe the attacks against lawyers.

The IBP is supporting moves to pass a judicial marshals bill in Congress.

The Senate as well as the Office of the Vice President, according to Cayosa, have responded to letters sent out by the IBP.

But the IBP has not heard so far from President Rodrigo Duterte, himself a lawyer.

"Hindi sumasagot ang ating Presidente, wala tayong naririnig sa kanya,” he said.

“Inaantay ko statement sa ating fellow-lawyer na si Presidente. Importante na may statement mula sa Presidente ng Pilipinas na itigil na itong mga pag-atake sa mga abugado,” said Ursua.

Colmenares said it doesn't help that attacks not just on lawyers but other members of the community are being encouraged by the President himself, citing Mister Duterte’s statements against drug addicts, lawyer of drug suspects and human rights defenders, whom he publicly threatened on several occasions.

“’Yung pagbira doon sa mga ito na nag-eencourage ng violence against the people na red-tagged or publicly-vilified by the Executive,” he said.

Cayosa said they're asking the DOJ to expand its AO 35 task force on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances to include representatives from the IBP.

Asked on Thursday if he will order the AO 35 task force to conduct a probe on the attack against Guillen, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will wait for Guillen to make a statement about the incident.

“If he has good reason to believe that it’s related to his advocacies, I will refer the matter to the AO 35 task force for appropriate action,” he said.

MORE ACTIVE, MILITANT RESPONSE

The group, in its statement, called for lawyers to not just condemn the attacks but to also launch a “more active and militant response.”

“We call on the people to demand from the Government to stop the killings and the escalating violence and impunity that have seriously eroded the rule of law and our democratic order,” they said.

The IBP, Cayosa noted, launched its own 25-million-peso reward system to help solve killings and attacks against lawyers.

Its chapters, too, have formed task forces and conducted seminars on gun-handling, among other projects.

But for Colmenares, the attacks are not just an issue for lawyers and judges.

"This is not the society we want our children to live in, na kung saan the violence escalates every day. Thousands are being killed without any remedy at walang prosecution at wala ka namang naririnig na interes ng gobyerno na resolbahin ito,” he said.

“So this is not only an issue of the lawyers and judges kundi part ito ng demand ng Filipino people na mahinto ang killings na ito. And we are, until now, waiting for any action on the part of government, not only action on arresting the impunity but even stopping the encouraging statements that encourage violence against the people themselves,” he added.

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