Your editorial “Impunity gone berserk” (9/22/2021) contains much with which all would agree—the killing of lawyers with impunity is a threat to the rule of law and therefore to a democratic Philippines. However, it seems that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) has also gone berserk.
The number of lawyers killed under President Duterte, now 69, is lamentable, but it is nowhere near the 500-percent increase that the IBP proclaims and which, willy nillly, the media continues to trumpet unquestioningly. Unfortunately, the IBP continues to use the inaccurate numbers first produced by the Free Legal Assistance Group.
Here are the numbers recorded by the Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers of the International Association of People’s Lawyers: According to numerous monitoring groups, there were 18 lawyers killed from the Marcos to Estrada presidencies, 83 under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and 47 under President Benigno Aquino III. Thus, pre-Duterte there were at least 148 killings.
Your editorial cites the IBP claim that ”the number of lawyers killed since President Duterte came into power in 2016 has skyrocketed by 500 percent.” That is obviously a claim that cannot be justified. What is true is that at 1.1 lawyer killed per month, the rate under Mr. Duterte far exceeds the rates under his two predecessors: Arroyo at 0.74 and Aquino at 0.65.
The IBP would be well advised to seek ways in which the lawyers can protect themselves. Relying on the government, especially when state forces are involved in lawyer killings, is rather like waiting for snow in Manila. They might follow the example being set now in Nigeria where the national Bar has called a temporary boycott of the courts, in similar manner as in France, India, and Pakistan. Governments must be persuaded to act, and not only expected to do so.
Gill H. Boehringer
co-chair, Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers, International Association of People’s Lawyers