Following attack on Iloilo lawyer, NUPL demands government action to stop threats, killings

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Following attack on Iloilo lawyer, NUPL demands government action to stop threats, killings
Lawyers submit a letter to the Supreme Court on December 22, 2020 urging action on the killings of lawyers.
National Union of Peoples' Lawyers via Bulatlat

MANILA, Philippines — With the brazen attack on yet another public interest lawyer, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers are pressing all branches of government to protect the members of the legal profession.

NUPL Assistant Vice President for Visayas Angelo Karlo Guillen was stabbed in the head and on the shoulder on Wednesday night. The young lawyer is in stable condition as of Thursday morning.

Guillen is the fourth lawyer to have survived an attack since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016. At least 54 others in the same profession have been killed, according to an independent tally by NUPL.

NUPL Secretary General Ephraim Cortez said the writs of habeas data and amparo — a writ of protection — remain available remedies for them, following the attack on Guillen.

In 2019, the NUPL asked the Supreme Court for the issuance of a writ of amparo as protection from perceived harassment and violence from state agents. While this was granted by the SC, they failed to secure a temporary protection order from the Court of Appeals.

READ: NUPL seeks court protection from 'threats' by state agents

But NUPL President Edre Olalia, in the same press conference, noted that the Supreme Court does not bear the sole responsibility in stopping attacks against lawyers, as the executive and legislative branches of the government have duties too.

Review of protection writ

Cortez said there have been discussions among lawyers' groups on availing of other remedies from the Supreme Court. “It’s still the [writs of] amparo and habeas data [as] you need the extra mile just to get other remedies. If those are not available under rules of court, hopefully something will come out,” he added.

Last December, lawyers’ groups trooped to the Supreme Court to demand action on the rising attacks against their colleagues and its impact on their practice.

Olalia shared that they and other lawyers' groups met with SC officials in January on the security concerns they raised. He added they gave “proposed concrete measures,” including a revisit of the 2007 Rules on the Writ of Amparo.

“[B]ecause those who have been with us as early as 2007 when the writ was promulgated, we came up with an analysis, list of concrete amendments to the writ. As far as we know nothing came of it, and that was prompted by long years of frustrations on the loopholes and gaps and grey areas,” he added in a mix of English and Filipino.

When the appeals court junked the NUPL’s plea, it said that the group — which counts membership nationwide — failed to provide a full list of individuals who may benefit from the grant of the relief.

“Furthermore, given their allegations against their police and military authorities, petitioners should have identified an accredited or to-be-accredited person or private institution capable of providing the protection,” the ruling read.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, in a press conference in October 2020, said they will consider reviewing the Rules on the Writ of Amparo, but admitted that the SC is already working on other rules of the court such as institutionalizing videoconferencing and reviewing Rules on Criminal Procedure and on Summary Procedure.

Executive and legislative branches too

But Olalia said the high court — although it has powers to promulgate rules on their practice —  does not bear the sole responsibility in the continued attacks against lawyers.

“As a matter of fact, buck stops with the executive, even legislative, [which have] even greater powers than the SC,” Olalia said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque condemned the attack on Guillen, adding that the crime is even more abominable "because they are attacking our rule of law."

Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Domingo Egon Cayosa also slammed the brazen attack on Guillen, who he pointed out, has been red-tagged and threatened many times. He said: “Inflicting violence on those who seek justice is criminality in the highest degree."

The Senate held an inquiry into a spate of unlawful killings including Filipino lawyers on January 28, but no second hearing has been set since. No representative from the Department of Justice, which is handling prosecution of these cases, were invited to the hearing.

RELATED: IBP: With lawyers killed and murders unresolved, people will lose trust in justice system

The Senate has since held hearings into vigilante killings by motorcycle-riding gunmen and the supposed delay in the implementation of the Republic Act 11235 or the Motorcycle Crime Prevention Act—an issue raised in the first hearing into the killings of lawyers.

The DOJ, for its part, is creating an inventory of cases that are under investigation, are undergoing preliminary investigation and those that have reached the court for trial “for the purpose of monitoring their progress very closely.”

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