The National Bureau of Investigation and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines inked a deal last week to extend assistance to, and protect, members of the Judiciary who experience threats and harassment.
The NBI, in a statement, said its OIC-Director Eric Distor and IBP president Domingo Egon Cayosa signed a Memorandum of Agreement to strengthen coordination and communication between the agency and the IBP’s chapter organizations.
The IBP is the national organization for Philippine lawyers.
The bureau said both parties agreed to maintain direct lines between their leaderships for faster coordination and to help prevent attacks on lawyers. The agreement also covers data sharing between the NBI and IBP.
This comes nearly three months since the IBP and the Philippine National Police signed a separate MOA to address attacks on members of the legal profession. Under the agreement, the PNP will help lawyers enhance their skills and knowledge in protecting themselves through proper use of firearms.
In its accord with the NBI, the bureau “will provide timely assistance to lawyers, prosecutors and magistrates in distress and extend appropriate security and protection in cases of threats or hazards in the performance of their duties and functions as may be allowed by law and regulations.”
The NBI will also expedite and prioritize probes into incidents or cases of violence against members of the legal profession.
A Nueva Vizcaya court has acquitted a human rights lawyer and his wife who were both accused of uttering unsavory words towards a local police chief while retrieving the personal effects of an assassinated National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant.
Both Atty. Edu Balgos, of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer-Nueva Vizcaya, and wife Rina were separately charged with unjust vexation.
In the case of Rina, based on the complaint filed by Aritao police station chief Police Chief Inspector Geovanni Cejes, she allegedly uttered “bakit niyo pinapakialaman ang mga gamit ng biktima [Why are you tampering with the things of the victim]” and “alam niyo na, baka plantingan pa nino yan [Maybe you will plant evidence]” while inside the police station. She also allegedly badgered Cejes with a congressional summon.
On the part of her husband, Cejes alleged that Atty. Balgos yelled at him over the phone and accused him of human rights violations and also threatened him with a congressional summon.
In acquitting the two, the court said the prosecution left out crucial details such as the approximate time, place, and other circumstances where the supposed incident happened that caused distress to the police officer.
The court also pointed out that the testimony of the witness for the prosecution is consistent with the testimony of Rina.
The police officer said Rina was at the police station to witness the investigation of the case of the slain NDFP consultant when she uttered the unsavory words. But the witness said Rina’s purpose of going to the police station was to get the belongings of the NDFP consultant. Rina said when she went to the police station, she was asked to wait outside. The prosecution witness said she saw Rina sitting outside. The witness also said she did not hear Rina accuse the police of planting evidence on the clothes of the deceased NDFP consultant.
Calls for justice are mounting for John Heredia, a municipal administrator of Pilar, Capiz and a former journalist who was murdered in broad daylight in Roxas City Sunday.
“We call for a thorough investigation and a swift resolution of the case,” said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippine (NUJP) in a statement.
The 54-year-old Heredia was shot several times in the head by a hooded gunman onboard a motorcycle driven by an accomplice.
“While Heredia was no longer in media when he was killed, his death is a symptom of the culture of impunity in the Philippines,” NUJP pointed out.
Heredia’s killing happened a day prior to World Press Freedom Day. He was a longtime chairperson of the NUJP in Capiz and served in the NUJP national board of directors.
“This is a monstrous crime that must be investigated promptly and properly so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice,” the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUP-Panay chapter) said in a separate statement.
Heredia was the husband of human rights lawyer Criselda Azarcon-Heredia who survived a September 2019 ambush in which gunmen peppered her vehicles with bullets. The wife has been previously red tagged.
The art and cultural community also condemned Heredia’s murder. He was also an artist, musician, and playwright.
More lawyers were killed during Duterte’s tenure than under previous presidents, said the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).
According to a report released Monday, over 50 lawyers were killed under the Duterte administration.
The attack on lawyers increased from one death during President Joseph Estrada’s term to 21 during President Benigno Aquino III’s term and 45 during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term.
In the time of President Ferdinand Marcos and President Corazon Aquino, only four lawyers were attacked, while none during the presidency of Fidel Ramos.
In a span of 10 years between 2011 and 2021, NUPL recorded 176 attacks with 73 deaths.
From the 73 killings, exactly 54 happened during the Duterte administration, NUPL said.
“Since he began his term, there has been an average of 11 killings per year or almost one per month. Most of these killings appear to be unresolved to date,” the report stated.
The year with the most lawyers killed was 2018, with 16 deaths. Two judges and two prosecutors were also killed.
The biggest chunk of the attacks in 10 years, or 53 percent, was human rights-related. This means that these lawyers handled unionists, activists, political prisoners. Most of these lawyers were advocates, and most belong to organizations such as NUPL, Free Legal Assistance Group, and Public Interest Law Center.
At least 61 lawyers, prosecutors and judges were killed in the last five years, prompting calls for the UN to help investigate.
On a late Wednesday evening in early March, Filipino human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen headed home after a long day at his office in Iloilo, a city renowned for its well-preserved Spanish-era homes in the central Philippine island of Panay.
As he walked to his residence, two men wearing ski masks appeared and started attacking him.
The assailants took his backpack, which contained his laptop and court case files, but left his wallet and smartphone untouched, according to the police report. They escaped with two other accomplices on separate motorbikes, and have never been found.
The 33-year-old lawyer was left slumped on the ground, fighting for his life. When rescuers found him, a yellow-handled screwdriver was still stuck in his left temple.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the country’s largest group of lawyers, denounced the attack as a “brazen and bloody assassination attempt”. Guillen only managed to escape death by playing dead.
Police in Iloilo said they are still investigating the attack, after initially saying the incident could have been motivated by robbery.
At the time of the attack, Guillen was the legal counsel for at least two Indigenous Tumandok leaders, who were among a group accused of resisting arrest during a police raid last December. Nine people were killed in the operation – part of a nationwide “anti-insurgency” campaign that President Rodrigo Duterte launched following the collapse of peace talks between the government and communist rebels in 2017.
Three days before the attack on Guillen, the village chief of a Tumandok community in Panay was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle. He was a key witness in Guillen’s case, and rights groups suspect the twin attacks may be related. The Tumandok community is fighting against a plan to construct a dam in their ancestral land.
In the five years since Duterte became president, dozens of people in the legal profession have been brutally attacked, often with deadly consequences. According to the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), 61 lawyers, prosecutors and judges have been killed during Duterte’s term – higher than all the recorded deadly attacks on lawyers in the last 50 years under six previous presidents. Most were killed while doing their job.
There have been no convictions so far in any of the deadly attacks recorded since 2016, and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) is now calling on the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to “undertake more aggressive and concrete measures” to help investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.
“Despite assurances from the government that the justice system in the Philippines is working, it’s clear that its very foundations are in peril,” Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, said in a statement, warning that the “deadly wave of killings and incitement of violence will only continue” if action is not taken to protect rights defenders.
The Supreme Court has condemned acts of violence committed against judges and lawyers, and outlined a plan of action to end the threats and killings against them.
“The Judiciary is one of the three pillars of our republican democracy, which itself hangs on a careful balance between and among governmental powers. To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands,” Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Hosaka said on Tuesday.
“The Court condemns in the strongest sense every instance where a lawyer is threatened or killed, and where a judge is threatened and unfairly labeled,” he added.
The statement from the Supreme Court en banc read by Hosaka also said among the measures to be taken was to provide security for judges or justices who have been threatened.
“We have coordinated with all concerned to provide security and counseling to the judges concerned. The court is ready to provide or coordinate security arrangements for any judge or justice that is similarly threatened,” he said.
Hosaka added the office of Court Administrator has been ordered to conduct a survey among trial courts and Sharia judges about the extent of threats they have received in the last 10 years.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday denounced the killings of lawyers under the Duterte administration, saying these were manifestations of the alleged culture of impunity in the Philippines.advertisement
A report by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) showed 61 lawyers have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, the most for any administration since 1972. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, meanwhile, has tallied 54 work-related killings of members of the legal profession under the current administration.
“It is unconscionable that lawyers in the Philippines are being killed like flies,” said Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher at HRW.
“That most of these murders occurred in the last five years, after President Duterte came to power in 2016, is not just shocking — it demonstrates the unsettling extent of the impunity in the Philippines and the ease with which murder is being used to deal with the marginalized, the critics, the activists, and those who dared to represent them as they seek redress in the judicial system,” he added.
Conde urged members of the international community to “step up” their response to the “unrelenting violence” in the Philippines.
He said the United Nations Human Rights Council and foreign governments, especially the Philippines’ trade and security allies, should not continue to “look away from the blood in the streets or respond weakly to the mayhem.”
“They have to honor and live up to their human rights commitment and hold the Duterte government to account,” Conde said.
“They have to see the full picture of what’s happening: the Duterte government is not only violating the rights of people — by targeting rights defenders, journalists, and now lawyers, it is making sure that accountability and justice remain unattainable, that impunity will prevail. This needs to stop,” he said.
JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra has urged lawyers to band together and come up with measures to protect themselves amid the rash of threats, attacks and killings of those representing clients in drug cases and alleged communist terroristic activities.
Guevarra made the call as he admitted that the spate of killings involving lawyers has become alarming despite government efforts to address the problem.
The justice chief also expressed belief that the recent spate of violence committed against lawyers is work-related.
“Lawyers should take precautions. They know their situation so they should be more aware of the danger or the risk they are facing … So it is incumbent upon them to take the necessary precautions,” Guevarra said in a radio interview.
The DOJ chief suggested that lawyers strengthen their fraternal ties with groups of lawyers such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and collaborate with law enforcement agencies for their protection.
Guevarra also noted that lawyers are allowed to carry firearms and that the government would be willing to assist them in processing their permits.
“There is no prohibition on carrying firearms and our lawyers know that. Part of their job is to get exposed to dangers and they are not prohibited from carrying firearms. What we can do to help is to expedite the issuance of license to possess firearms and even permits to carry,” Guevarra said.
He also advised lawyers to immediately report to authorities any harassment or threat to their security and life.
Human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen lost all his case files to two men who tried to kill him with screwdriver stabs to the head in an attack that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Friday said had demonstrated the “chilling effect” of Red-tagging.
Guillen stopped struggling and pretended to be dead after one of his attackers stabbed him with a screwdriver, leaving it still embedded in his left temple when paramedics found him bleeding on a street in Iloilo City on Wednesday night, according to one of his friends.
“After he fell to the ground, he was at first kicking at one of the men who was near his legs while also trying to parry the stabbing of the one near his head,” Guillen’s friend told the Inquirer by phone in reply to questions for the lawyer who is recuperating in a hospital in Iloilo City.
Guillen’s friend asked not to be identified for security reasons.
After Guillen stopped moving, the assailants who wore ski masks, fled on two motorcycles driven by two accomplices.
The assailants took his backpack with personal belongings and a shoulder bag containing his laptop, external disk for backup files and case documents. They did not take his wallet and smartphone, which were inside his pockets.
All the documents of all his cases were in the laptop and external disk, Guillen told his friend.
Every life and family impacted is precious. But this high number of killings is, in itself, a broader, institutional concern.
The killing of two unarmed civilians, Sonya and Frank Gregorio, that happened last December 20, has rightly met with widespread condemnation and ignited the debate about the need for police reform in the Philippines.
Others point to lawlessness and lack of respect for the police, contributing to an “us versus them” mentality. Yet others emphasize a policing culture of addressing crime by resorting to violence and abuse of power.
In recent weeks, a number of killings – by unknown assailants, of individuals playing a role in protecting their communities – has been reported. The killing of two human rights activists in August, of a journalist in November, of two lawyers in Cebu in November and December, and of a doctor and her husband last December 16, are among the most recent such cases.
This impacts negatively on security and development.
The Human Rights Council resolution adopted by consensus on October 7 of this year, with the support of the Government of the Philippines and a large number of member states, has provided a basis for such cooperation.
Since the adoption of the Human Rights Council Resolution, the UN has actively engaged with civil society organizations, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, and a range of different government actors to set the basis of an ambitious program.
However, we should agree that the success of technical cooperation greatly relies on the existence of an enabling environment, with strong commitment to change.
The killing of Sonya and Frank Gregorio impacts on all of us. Preventing such killings and ensuring accountability must be our foremost priority.