âAttack on red-tagged rights lawyer to have chilling effect on members of legal professionâ
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon attends a Senate hybrid plenary session on Monday, March 1, 2021.
Screen grab/ Senate PRIB

‘Attack on red-tagged rights lawyer to have chilling effect on members of legal profession’

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - March 5, 2021 - 3:42pm

MANILA, Philippines — A senator and former justice secretary on Friday called for stronger laws against red-tagging following the attack on a rights lawyer accused of being a communist rebel.

Angelo Karlo Guillen, National Union of People's Lawyers assistant vice president for the Visayas, was stabbed by two unidentified men in the head and in the shoulder in Iloilo City on Wednesday night. A statement released by Karapatan on Thursday said he was in stable condition.

Guillen represents arrested indigenous land defenders and is assisting in petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. 

"The attempt on the life of Guillen sends a chilling effect on members of the legal profession — lawyers, judges and justices," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

"When lawyers can no longer do their job freely and without fear of being killed, that is when the rule of law begins to weaken."

"We should not let this horrific attack on members of the legal profession continue. Guillen’s case should not just add to the strings of unresolved cases of killing of and assassination attempts on lawyers in the country," he added, urging authorities to bring the assailants to justice.

Drilon further sounded the alarm over the "particularly disquieting" fact that Guillen was baselessly accused of being a communist rebel before he was attacked.

Karapatan on Thursday said Guillen was red-tagged as early as 2018, when his "photo was included in posters placed around Iloilo City, tagging him along with leaders and members of various organizations, as members of the New People’s Army."

NUPL in a separate statement said that Guillen was previously arrested after responding to 42 activists who were detained while protesting the killing of Jory Porquia, who was red-tagged alongside him.

"[Guillen's] case lays the basis for the need for a stronger policy against red-tagging. Congress should provide sufficient remedies to protect the victims of red-tagging activities," Drilon said.

The assassination attempt on the rights lawyer came less than a week after unidentified assailants murdered Julie Catamin who was identified in an Inquirer report as a "key witness" to a deadly operation carried out by security forces against the Tumandok tribe members who are Guillen's clients. 

The simultaneous police and military operations on December 30 led to the arrest of 18 Tumandok land defenders and the deaths of nine more.

Following the attack on Guillen, petitioners against the anti-terror law again asked the Supreme Court to halt its implementation. Drilon was the only member of the Senate minority to vote in favor of the reviled law. 

But will the Senate actually legislate against red-tagging?

The Senate's track record when it comes to red-tagging and checking human rights abuses in general, however, is not a promising one. 

READ: Amid promised oversight of anti-terror law, how has the Senate probed past abuses?

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who heads the committee on defense and is a principal author of the anti-terror law, in November last year launched a legislative probe into the practice of red-tagging. But the hearings that followed were criticized by many as an avenue for more red-tagging which subsequently endangered the lives of more individuals — something which Lacson denies.

What's more, the same Senate panel in a committee report dated Feb. 22, 2021, concluded that legal remedies "are sufficient and available for personalities or groups that have been the subject of the so called 'red-tagging.'"

Despite this, just a month after the upper chamber's probe on red-tagging was launched, over half the Senate co-authored a resolution seeking a probe into the unlawful killings in the country, alleging that security forces have "lost control of peace and order" in the country.

A number of the victims of vigilante killings cited by senators in their resolution, including Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan, head of the COVID-19 task force in Guilhulngan City, were red-tagged before they were killed. 

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