November 20, 2018
The slaying earlier this month of a prominent human rights lawyer in the Philippines who worked on behalf of poor suspects accused of drug-related crimes has sparked a renewed outcry over President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. The lawyer, Benjamin Ramos, was gunned down by two unidentified assailants on Nov. 6—the 34th lawyer to be killed since Duterte took office in 2016. In an interview with WPR, Imelda Deinla, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s School of Regulation and Global Governance, explains why Philippine lawyers are being targeted and how this wave of violence is affecting the country’s legal institutions.
World Politics Review: What is driving the current extraordinary wave of violence targeting lawyers in the Philippines?
Imelda Deinla: There is really nothing extraordinary about the extrajudicial killing of lawyers in the Philippines. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines has documented at least 200 killings involving lawyers since 2001. What has been extraordinary, however, is the intensity of violence against lawyers since President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration came to power in 2016.
Many of the dozens of incidents of violence against lawyers remain unresolved or even unreported to authorities. But such impunity is nothing new in the Philippines, and it has historically applied to both state and non-state actors. Findings from two separate independent investigations conducted a decade ago—the Melo Commission report in 2007 and the Alston report in 2008—implicated security personnel in the wave of violence that occurred during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, which lasted from 2001 until 2010. The Alston report specifically mentioned the practice of death squads summarily executing suspected criminals with the participation of police officers. Macapagal-Arroyo’s successor, Benigno Aquino, did little to address the issue. During his administration, dozens of lawyers were victims of extrajudicial killings.
This pervasive culture of impunity has continued under Duterte, whose war on drugs has encouraged a new wave of state-sanctioned violence.