April 24, 2017
It was the most impressive delivery of justice Joel Butuyan had seen in his more than two decades of being a lawyer.
On January 26, human rights lawyers Gil Aquino and Cristina Antonio filed a petition before the Supreme Court of the Philippines seeking protection for Efren Morillo, the lone survivor of a police ambush that killed four alleged drug users in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs”.
Only five days later, the petition was granted. It provided sweeping protections for Morillo and severely limited police activity near his home and workplace.
“It was a breath of fresh air considering the current atmosphere,” said Butuyan, a veteran human rights lawyer who supervised the filing of the petition along with his colleague, Romel Bagares. “People have this feeling of hopelessness, but there’s still a branch of government you can run to and seek protection.”
It was the first legal action on behalf of a victim of the government’s controversial anti-drugs campaign. Yet after more than 8,000 deaths, few cases have followed.
Rights groups said that many of the killings were assassinations of drugs users with police complicity, allegations the authorities have denied.
Butuyan is the president of the Centre for International Law, the human rights advocacy wing of his private firm, Roque & Butuyan. Last November, he put Aquino, 27, and Antonio, 37, a former community organiser, in charge of what has become one of the highest-profile cases in the country. They have four years of legal experience between them.
With such responsibility comes considerable risk. A total of 86 lawyers have been killed in the Philippines since 1999, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. They also frequently face threats and intimidation. Lawyers are therefore sometimes deterred from pursuing politically charged cases.
(N.B. The number of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and paralegals killed must be over 130 since 1999.)
Tagged: The Philippines