NUPL: 'Surveillance' on foreign delegation shows threats vs Philippine lawyers

In this file photo taken on December 10, 2018, members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers call for justice for slain rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos.
National Union of Peoples' Lawyers/Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — The reported harassment and intimidation of a delegation of foreign lawyers in the country gives credence to claims of attacks against Fiipino lawyers, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said.

The delegation was in the country last week to look into cases of Filipino lawyers being killed.

They said that during the conduct of their interviews, a man who identified himself as a “military personnel” said that they were under surveillance. They were also tailed by two men riding a motorcycle.

READ: Delegation of foreign lawyers claims intimidation, harassment

Olalia, head of the NUPL, told Philstar.com that it “only confirms firsthand what the reports are all about.” He said he was with the delegation when the reported incidents happened.

He said that they were “sorry and embarrassed” that the guests had to go through the very same experience of local lawyers under threat.

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The NUPL and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines hosted the delegation.

‘Government should look into report’

Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc, a candidate for senator, called on the government to look into the reported intimidation and harassment.

“I ask this administration, the PNP, what is your response to this? Anyone, not only lawyers, should never feel intimidated on our soil, more so threatened,” Gutoc said in a statement.

The former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission said that if the government is insisting that the findings of the delegation are baseless, it should just allow the investigation to continue.

“If true, this government should be ashamed of resorting to violent and illegal tactics to scare off investigations into the events here in the Philippines. Kung sa tingin ng gobyerno ay walang basehan ang imbestigasyon, magbigay sila ng pahayag at hayaan ang pag-iimbestiga,” she added.

(If the government believes the investigation is baseless, they can just issue a statement and let the probe continue)

More patience from government officials

Olalia also said that the information released earlier this week was only the group’s initial findings.

“If I were the government officials, be more patient and wait for the full report rather than dismissing it all together,” he said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier challenged the groups’ "sweeping" statement that killings of Philippine lawyers are state-sponsored.

He said: “With all due respect, I find their conclusion that lawyers’ deaths are state-sanctioned preposterous, unless they can back it up with some credible evidence. Of all people, they as lawyers, should be the first to show proof of facts before making reckless public statements.”

The panel on Monday released the findings of their review of 13 cases, conducted on March 14 to 18, on Monday. They said that there has been a “sharp increase” of “severe” rights violations against Philippine rights lawyers and legal professionals.

The delegation also raised that public pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte against lawyers are part of the “pattern...suggesting a connection between the killings and the actions of the PNP [Philippine National Police] and AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines].”

Olalia said that the panel did not have “enough time.”

“They better wait for the full report of the delegation,” he added.

Olalia said that other groups are also planning to conduct a followups for a full report next month.