MANILA - Senatorial candidate and National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) chairman Neri Colmenares on Thursday blamed President Rodrigo Duterte for the threats and attacks against Filipino lawyers, a day after the killing of a lawyer in Tagum City.
“The threat comes from the government,” he said at a forum at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) office in Ortigas, citing 3 grounds for claiming that the attacks, not just on lawyers, were “state-sponsored.”
He said the victims were publicly vilified by the President himself, the crimes were brazenly committed as if the perpetrators were not afraid of being caught, and there was complete lack of interest to investigate and prosecute the killings.
“Thousands have been killed, how many have been charged?” he asked.
38TH LAWYER KILLED UNDER DUTERTE ADMINISTRATION
Lawyer Rex Jasper Lopoz was gunned down outside a shopping mall in Tagum City on Wednesday night, the 38th lawyer reported killed under the Duterte administration, according to IBP National President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo.
He said the first one, Rogelio Bato, Jr., was killed on August 23, 2016. Bato was the lawyer of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, Jr., who was himself killed inside a jail cell after being publicly accused by President Rodrigo Duterte of being a drug personality.
“We should not be attacked on the basis of the cases we handle for our clients,” Fajardo said during the forum.
The IBP had condemned Lopoz’s killing and urged authorities, including the Supreme Court, to conduct an investigation.
It also said it will allot P5 million from its funds for the prosecution of cases where lawyers were the victims.
Prior to Lopoz, former Cebu City Prosecutor Mary Ann Uy was killed inside her vehicle in Cebu City in January 17 this year.
Another prosecutor, Rogelio Velasco, was gunned down while driving his vehicle in Quezon City on May 11 last year.
By NUPL’s count, there are now at least 115 lawyers killed since the Marcos regime.
NUPL President Edre Olalia claims many lawyers are now afraid to handle drugs and human rights cases because of fear for their safety.
“If they are killing and attacking lawyers, who will defend the defenders?” he asked.
29 JUDGES KILLED SINCE 1999
Judge Felix Reyes, president of the Philippine Judges Association, for his part, said 29 Filipino judges have been killed in the line of duty from 1999 to 2018.
Only 5 suspects have been convicted so far, all of them hitmen, he added.
Reyes said that while there are provisions for judges to hire a security escort, he is hoping a law creating a Philippine marshal system will be established to provide better protection for judges.
Reyes initially made this suggestion at the wake of Judge Edmundo Pintac, who was killed in Ozamiz on October 8 last year while on his way home.
The judge used to handle the illegal drugs and illegal possession of firearms cases of the Parojinogs.
The forum on Thursday was meant to discuss the role of lawyers in the Philippines and the state’s duty to protect lawyers, amidst increasing attacks against lawyers, judges and prosecutors.
At the end of the forum, a team of 9 lawyers from different international lawyers’ groups was introduced. They are in the country to investigate killings and attacks against their Filipino counterparts.
They come from Belgium, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands and the United States and belong to the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), the Union of International Advocates (UIA), and the Day of Endangered Lawyers Foundation (DELF).
The group will meet with government and law enforcement officials, law professors, non-governmental organizations, and the victims or their families until Sunday and is expected to present their initial findings on Monday.
NUPL is hosting the international delegation but Olalia is quick to point out NUPL is not taking part in the investigation of the group.
Explaining the foreign lawyers’ interest in attacks against Filipino lawyers, he said the move is part of global solidarity, pointing to a previous research mission by international lawyers on the same topic 11 years ago.
“The attacks on lawyers anywhere is an attack on lawyers everywhere,” he said.