MANILA (UPDATE) — More than 150 professors from the UP College of Law and more than 700 lawyers wrote to the Supreme Court Tuesday to express concern over a letter from Calbayog police requesting for a list of lawyers representing “communist terrorist groups” (CTGs).
The group of professors, led by newly-installed Dean Edgardo Carlo Vistan II, said they were "deeply troubled and concerned by this brazen and outright attempt to curtail legal rights and civil liberties."
“Several of our professional brethren have already been killed for no clear reason other than that they represented accused who were alleged to be members of communist groups or allied organizations,” the letter read.
In a letter dated March 12, 2021, Police Lt. Fernando Calabria, Jr., the intelligence chief of the Calbayog Police Station, asked the Office of the Clerk of Court in Calbayog Regional Trial Court for a list of lawyers who represent “CTG personalities in court.”
No reason was cited for the request but the letter drew widespread condemnation because attached to it was a table with a heading in one column captioned “mode of neutralization.”
Police have used the term “neutralization” in police reports on drug cases to refer to killings, as pointed out by the June 2020 report of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“This police action is clearly meant to (a) intimidate lawyers from representing persons that the government has tagged as alleged members of CTGs even without benefit of trial, (b) indirectly deprive persons accused as ‘CTG personalities’ of their right to counsel by frightening lawyers from being associated with them, even if they do so as officers of the court, and (c) provide the PNP with another ‘list’ of ‘personalities’ against whom they may decide to take other actions in the future,” the professors said.
The PNP’s move is a “patent demonstration of impunity" aside from being a blatant attempt to make courts complicit in possible violations of constitutional rights, the letter read.
“It should not be left to stand. Never in the history of our country has there ever been such an open and flagrant attempt to cow the legal community into shirking their sworn duties as lawyers and officers of the court through an act of discrimination and inquisition clearly targeting lawyers for representing a particular category of accused clients,” it said.
PNP OIC Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar has relieved Calabria from his post and has apologized to the legal community over Calabria’s “reckless behavior” but he denied there is an order from top PNP officials for such a letter request.
But Calabria in his letter to Calbayog RTC cited “compliance from higher PNP offices.”
Vistan also said in his letter to the SC that similar letters making the same request have been received by other judges.
On the same day that UP Law professors submitted their letter to the Supreme Court, the judge who junked the illegal possession of firearms and explosives cases against journalist Lady Ann Salem and unionist Rodrigo Esparago became the target of red-tagging herself.
A photo of Mandaluyong RTC Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio was seen on 2 tarpaulins hung on footbridges along EDSA with the caption: “Maraming Salamat! Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio RTC Br. 209, Mandaluyong City sa mabilis na paglaya ng kasama nating Lady Ann Salem at Rodrigo Esparago. Tuloy ang Laban!!! Mabuhay!!!”
The message came with logos of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New Peoples’ Army and National Democratic Front.
“The Courts are under attack! After PNP’s attempt to profile HR lawyers, now we’re seeing harassment vs. judges who expose their flawed searches!” Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said in sharing the photo of the tarpaulin.
“I condemn this act of intimidation against Judge Quisumbing-Ignacio. Hands off the Judiciary! Hands off Human Rights Lawyers!” he added.
Quisumbing-Ignacio voided the search warrant issued by Quezon City Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert for being “vague.”
Gaite referred to the incident as “tarpaulin terrorism.”
Several tarpaulins have previously been hanged in different parts of Metro Manila condemning the CPP-NPA-NDF although no one has claimed responsibility for the tarps.
“The tarps speak for themselves. Independent, fair minded judges are under attack. Who has the motive to produce such inanity other than those extremely fond of red-tagging. Their handiwork will boomerang on them,” the group KAPATID said in reaction to the tarpaulins.
In a statement, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines urged all parties not to drag judges into their political or ideological issues or agenda.
"We enjoin all litigants, parties, and sectors not to unduly drag our magistrates into their political, ideological, or operational battles or agenda. Instead of terrorizing or attacking the judges, bring before them the best evidence and arguments so that they may discern the truth and act solely based on facts and the applicable laws," IBP National President Domingo Egon Cayosa said.
"As we advocate for JUSTICE BILIS, we pray that our judges will have the courage to do what the law requires them to do, though dangerous or unpopular and the integrity to remain unswayed by identity, race, gender, relationship, wealth, or politics," he added.
WHAT CAN SC DO?
While the UP Law Faculty letter did not mention the latest red-tagging incident involving Judge Quisumbing-Ignacio, it called on the Supreme Court to use its power to promulgate rules for the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights as well as its administrative supervision over all courts and personnel.
“These powers may be exercised motu proprio — and in these urgent circumstances, must be so exercised — by requiring an official explanation from the PNP leadership, at the first instance, and commencing proceedings perhaps towards ensuring that such instances never, ever happen again.”
In an accompanying letter, Dean Vistan asked SC to convene a “Special Committee to Protect Lawyers” to probe the Calbayog PNP letter and other attempts to profile and red-tag lawyers, verify the number of lawyers killed and study the need to amend the rules on writs of amparo and habeas data.
Lawyers and rights group have previously tried but failed to secure protection from the courts using the protective writs of amparo and habeas data.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers on Monday wrote to UN special rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers Diego García-Sayán about the attacks on Filipino lawyers, particularly on NUPL member Angelo Karlo Guillen who was stabbed with a screw driver in Iloilo.
Fifty-four lawyers in the Philippines have been killed due to work-related reasons under the Duterte administration, according to NUPL.
Another lawyers’ group, the Free Legal Assistance Group, came out with its own study showing 61 lawyers have been killed since 2016 when Duterte took office, more than the number of lawyers killed in the previous 6 administrations combined.
Lawyers and rights groups have warned red-tagging has dangerous consequences such as the killing of human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos.
FLAG member Raffy Aquino, also a UP Law alumnus, was falsely-tagged as an NPA member in a list posted on the website of the Armed Forces of the Philippines early this year.