The legal profession in the country is under siege. Lawyers smell trouble in the recent move by the…
Lawyers and petitioners questioning the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law urged the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, March 9, to help stop the continuing attacks on their colleagues and activists by, among others, issuing a temporary restraining order on the enforcement of the anti-terrorism law.
In a press conference, the lawyers for at least 37 pending petitions seeking the scrapping of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or Republic Act 11479, raised alarm anew on the string of violent attacks on critics of the law, specifically the March 3 stabbing in Iloilo City of lawyer Angelo Karlo “AK” Guillen, a counsel for one of the petitions, and the government’s “Bloody Sunday” operations that left nine activists dead in the Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) region on March 7.
The violent attacks came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte said he had told the military and the police that “during encounters, if the enemy is holding a gun, kill them; kill them right away...ignore human rights.”
Guillen, 33, was found bloodied on a dark street in Iloilo City with a screwdriver embedded in his left temple. He has been a human rights defender and the assistant vice president of the Visayas chapter of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
“We call on the Supreme Court as the constitutionally-appointed guardian of civil liberties and protector of the legal profession to take immediate measures to stop these attacks including those committed against petitioners and counsel in the ATA petitions,” the group said in a statement.
In a separate statement and press conference, journalists, who also petitioned the High Court to declare the ATA unconstitutional, condemned the attack on Guillen which, they said, “proves that the danger the anti-terrorism law represents to society is not only clear and present; it is happening now.”
In their statement entitled “Protect our lawyers, TRO the terror law now," the journalists-petitioners said “ Our plea is based on logic; the law legitimizes attacks on critics and their defenders.
(Disclosure: VERA Files is one of the petitioners against the ATA.)
The lawyers called on their colleagues in the legal profession, as well as on law students, to condemn the continuing attacks against lawyers and judges. They appealed for “more active response” to these attacks, including the filing of complaints under the United Nations mechanisms.
So far, 62 lawyers, including former SC justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales, have signed the statement issued by the petitioners’ counsels, some of whom, including Evalyn Ursua and Rafael Aquino, have recently been red-tagged by the military.
At least 54 lawyers and judges have been killed since the Duterte administration came to power in July 2016.
The lawyers said the public should “demand from the government to stop the killings and the escalating violence and impunity that have seriously eroded the rule of law and our democratic order.”
During the separate press conferences by the lawyers and the journalists, they raised the killing of nine persons in simultaneous police operations last Sunday in Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal. The circumstances behind the deaths were likened to those who died under President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs” for allegedly fighting back when accosted.
“These attacks are directly brought about by the continuing impunity in the country, as evidenced by the killing of at least 54 lawyers and judges and thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings since 2016,” the lawyers said, noting that those attacks threaten the practice of the legal profession and the people’s right to judicial remedies.
According to activist Altermidya, one of those shot dead was Manny Asuncion, a coordinator of the militant group Bayan in Cavite province. Two unidentified members of an urban poor group in Montalban town, Rizal province, were also killed.
In Batangas, couples Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista, who both worked for fishers’ rights, were arrested and later found dead, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). The Evangelista couple worked for Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA) Their bodies were found in a funeral home, according to Pamantik-KMU. Their 10-year-old child was able to escape.
During the simultaneous operations, the police arrested a labor leader in Laguna, a Bayan staff, and a paralegal for the political prisoner rights group Kapatid.
Lawyer Howard Calleja, also a lawyer for the petitioners, said the public should also speak up against the attacks not only on his colleagues in the law profession but also on civilians. “Ito po ay hindi na lang dapat lawyers’ march. Taumbayan na po dapat ang tumayo at magsabi ng enough is enough!” he said during the press conference.
Ursua said lawyers should not be labeled as terrorists simply because they are questioning the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law. “Gaya ng maraming Filipino, kami ay kalaban ng terorista (Like many other Filipinos, we are also enemies of terrorists),” she said.
“Walang kuwestiyon na ang terorismo ay kalaban namin. Paano natin maiiwasan ito kung hindi malinaw ang depinisyon (There is no question that we are against terrorists. But how can we fight it if there is no clear cut definition),” she pointed out.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque, a former human rights lawyer, said Duterte’s order to kill armed rebels was legal. “The President’s ‘kill, kill’ kill’ order is legal because it was directed at armed rebels,” he said in a press briefing. The “Bloody Sunday” operations would be investigated, he added.
Many other groups, including the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and human rights advocates, have condemned the resurgence of violent attacks and denounced the use of what it called unnecessary force and violence against critics of the administration.