MANILA - A lawyers' group in the Philippines on Monday asked a UN special rapporteur to look into the spate of attacks against members of the legal profession in the country.
Around 61 lawyers, prosecutors, and judges have been killed since 2016 when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said in a letter to Diego García-Sayán, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
The victims of the attacks are either defense lawyers who handled drug cases or those involved in human rights and public interest lawyering, the NUPL said.
Of the 61, at least 54 "are prima facie work-related", the NUPL said.
The group asked the UN special rapporteur to "form a team for the conduct of investigative mission to the Philippines" to look into the attacks, "uncover the perpetrators and prosecute them, and to recommend measures to prevent their further occurrence."
"These attacks produce a chilling effect which affects the performance of their sworn duties to the courts, their clients, their colleagues and the society. Filipino lawyers, right now, fear that they might be the next victims of these attacks," the NUPL said.
"Almost all of the perpetrators have never been brought to the bar of justice. And the prevailing climate of impunity emboldens the perpetrators of these dastardly acts to commit further attacks."
The group cited as an example the action of sacked intelligence officer of Calbayog City Police, who had asked a local court for list of lawyers representing supposed “communist terrorist groups."
"Several steps to address these attacks are perceived or proven to be mere tokens, much delayed, even ineffective or misdirected especially since the state forces themselves, or their agents and proxies, are reasonably suspected to be behind these attacks," the NUPL said.
"The state forces have the motive and the means to do them, with the blessings, and encouragement even by President Duterte in his public speeches. On March 5, he even publicly declared to 'ignore human rights, kill communist rebels, and finish them all.'"
Attacks against lawyers, judges, and the public will worsen following the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the group added.
In a press briefing Monday, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said lawyers in the country have no reason to fear they are possible targets in the government's anti-insurgency campaign, citing the relief of Calbayog's intelligence police officer.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the request of the police officer is an isolated case, and noted that the Philippine National Police leadership already took action.
Nevertheless, he said he cannot blame lawyers who fear being targeted or being profiled.
"Ang pinakabuti diyan ay talagang mag-ingat na lamang ang ating legal professionals sa kanilang mga ginagawa. They should take the necessaery precaution, proper coordination with our law enforcement agencies... At kung meron silang nararamdaman na any threat to their personal security ay i-report nila kaagad 'yun sa kinauukulan," Guevarra said.
(The best thing to do is really for our legal professionals to be very careful in their activities... If they sense any threat to their personal security, they should report it right away to proper authorities.)
In 2018, Duterte had said García-Sayán "can go to hell" for allegedly "meddling" in the affairs of the country.
-- Report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News