UN expert asked to send team to look into attacks on lawyers in Phl

UN expert asked to send team to look into attacks on lawyers in Phl

MANILA, Philippines — The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers has asked the office of a United Nations expert to look into continued attacks on members of the legal profession in the country.

The lawyers’ group asked United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Diego García-Sayán to form a team to conduct an investigative mission on the country, look into the killings and recommend measures to prevent such attacks from happening again.

An independent tally from the Free Legal Assistance Group showed that 61 lawyers have been killed since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, and at least 54 of these killings are prima facie (on its face) work-related, the NUPL said.

It added that the attacks on lawyers and judges have been continuing for years now, but that there has been a “sharp increase” under the present administration.

A considerable number of these victims are either defense lawyers handling drug cases or those involved in public interest. On top of the violence attacks, NUPL lawyers have also been harassed, vilified or subjected to intimidation or to threats of disbarment.

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Before the lawyers were killed or attacked, they were publicly vilified, red-tagged, and baselessly branded as recruiters for or members and officers of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, NUPL added.

Calbayog police last week asked the local court for a list of lawyers defending “communist terrorist groups”, a government term for activist groups being linked to armed communist rebels. Although the Philippine National Police denied any such order from top brass and ordered the relief of local officers, NUPL said a proper investigation must still be conducted.

“There is, therefore, one common denominator for the attacks against these legal professionals—the exercise of their sworn duty as judges, lawyers and agents in the administration of justice,” they said.

Chilling effect

The NUPL continued: “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."

They acknowledged that while there are steps taken to address the attacks, these are “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 Supreme Court has so far remained silent amid the renewed calls from lawyers’ groups for a stronger action on the continued attacks ion their ranks. In January, the SC led meetings with concerned sectors and two months later, the Office of the Court Administrator moved for the creation of inventory of pending cases.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra meanwhile distanced Duterte from the high number of lawyer killings in the present administration, noting that the members of legal profession are aware their job comes with danger.

The NUPL said they expect the attacks on lawyers and the general public to continue since no one was made accountable for the criminal acts, and following the passage of the contentious Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

READ: IBP: With lawyers killed and murders unresolved, people will lose trust in justice system

“Given the prevailing situation in the Philippines and the significant role your office performs, we earnestly plead your office to undertake more aggressive and concrete measures on these matters,” they added.

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