MANILA - More than a hundred lawyers from the Philippines and around the world on Thursday expressed "grave concern" over alleged attacks against human rights lawyers linked to the left.
In a statement, barristers, law professors, jurists from the Philippines, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States cited alleged "heightening attacks" against members of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL).
"We, lawyers and members of the legal profession, express grave concern over the heightening attacks against our colleagues in the Philippines," read the statement.
"In particular, we are disturbed by the labelling, accusations and threats against the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and its members. The red tagging of NUPL is contrary to basic rules of evidence, due process and fair play," it said.
The statement was signed by prominent Filipino lawyers, among them former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te of the Free Legal Assistance Group, former senator Rene Saguisag, and foreign law school deans and law organization representatives.
"An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us," the statement read.
The statement was released as the NUPL pursued litigation against government officials, including defense and military officials, over alleged threats and intimidation.
The lawyers' group said its members' lives were in danger as they have been linked to the communist movement because they represent left-leaning personalities in court. NUPL president Edre Olalia earlier said "lawyering is not terrorism" and that "the cause of the client and the case we’re handling should not be associated with us."
A hearing was held at the Court of Appeals on Thursday where NUPL presented a member who was allegedly labeled as a communist rebel. The respondents did not appear in the proceedings.
The appellate court is handling the case after the Supreme Court issued a writ of amparo (protection) in NUPL's favor and referred it for hearings.
In their statement, the signatories cited how political harassment "undermines the rule of law and substitutes it with the law of rulers."
They emphasized that dissent and criticism are an exercise of democratic rights.
"Labelling, discrediting, threatening, and attacking lawyers are against the basic principles of lawyering, the State’s duty to protect them and the delivery of justice," the statement read.
"More importantly, these attacks beg the fundamental question of whether there are valid reasons to dissent, criticize and advocate change, and how to address them for the people’s benefit," it said.
The lawyers expressed solidarity with NUPL members, saying their "track record is beyond question" in providing free legal services to the marginalized.
"We stand in solidarity with our fellow lawyers irrespective of the clients they professionally represent and the public interest advocacies they pursue," the statement read, adding that they support cases and actions in defense of NUPL and other lawyers under attack.