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Lawmakers warn PNP: Hands off lawyers

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
Lawmakers warn PNP: Hands off lawyers
“Hands off lawyers and matters of the court. Last time I checked, lawyering is not a crime, regardless of who you represent. Lawyers must not be targeted for upholding constitutionally and universally guaranteed rights,” Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles said.
KJ Rosales, file

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers yesterday warned the Philippine National Police (PNP) not to go after defense counsels of people accused of crimes or red-tag human rights lawyers because they are fulfilling duties protected under the Constitution.

“Hands off lawyers and matters of the court. Last time I checked, lawyering is not a crime, regardless of who you represent. Lawyers must not be targeted for upholding constitutionally and universally guaranteed rights,” Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles said.

The administration lawmaker was reacting to PNP-Calbayog City intelligence unit head Lt. Fernando Calabria Jr.’s move of allegedly seeking a list of lawyers representing communist personalities following the killing of the city’s mayor Ronaldo Aquino.

“The police have no business meddling with affairs of the court. We cannot condone this overreach by the Calbayog City police, which undermines the administration of justice through intimidation, hidden behind the veil of courtesy and pseudo-legality,” Nograles said.

Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento called on the House of Representatives’ committee on public order and safety to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the March 8 slay of Calbayog Mayor Aquino.

Sarmiento, a political ally of the victim, has filed House Resolution 1633, urging the committee to investigate the “senseless murder” of Aquino, saying the alleged assailant-policemen were wearing bonnets and armed with M-203 grenade launchers.

Sarmiento, who chairs the House committee on transportation, noted that “there are doubts on whether the incident was a legitimate police investigation, since the members of the uniformed service were not in their official uniform when it happened.”

Lawyers beware, DOJ chief says

With 54 incidents of killings since 2016, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday said the spate of killings of lawyers, to a certain extent, is a cause for concern.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has advised lawyers to be aware of the risks and dangers of their professions, and take precaution and coordinate with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and law enforcement groups.

Interviewed over radio station dzBB, Guevarra said the number of lawyers, judges and prosecutors killed during this administration is alarming.

He added that compared with professionals in other fields, those belonging to the legal profession are more “prone to murderous incidents.”

Among these incidents, some attacks are motivated by personal, business or political reasons, but Guevarra hinted that many are work-related.

The DOJ chief expressed belief that “lawyers, who are one of the most vocal and high-profile in the professional group, and many of them represent clients in cases involving terrorism, corruption, illegal drugs and election cases, and many … having their own advocacies or part of groups with advocacies” might be prone to attacks.

At present, the DOJ is making an inventory of lawyers, prosecutors and judges killed.

“Many of these assassinations may have been well-planned, so it is difficult to crack… There are really cases where (police investigators) are facing a blank wall because there are no leads and no witnesses,” Guevarra said.

Also, there are cases still under preliminary investigation and others pending in courts.

With these developments, lawyers should take extra care, the DOJ chief said.

PNP training urged

Meanwhile, administration stalwart Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel advised PNP operatives to “curb your trigger-happiness” and called for increased police training to subdue targets without a gunfight.

“To avoid deadly misencounters, police officers should lessen their trigger-happiness and exercise greater restraint in discharging their firearms during operations,” Pimentel, who chairs the House committee on strategic intelligence, said.

“We are calling for increased police training in subduing their targets without having to discharge their weapons,” the senior Mindanao legislator added.

For Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, bloody misencounters like the incident between Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents and PNP operatives could have been prevented if only Congress had approved proposals to compel law enforcers to wear body cameras.

Barbers, who chairs the House committee on dangerous drugs, was referring to amendments he proposed to the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which was passed by the House in the 17th Congress (2016 to 2019), but where the Senate did not have any counterpart version.

The same measure was refiled by Barbers in the current Congress and had been passed by the House on third reading recently. The provision stipulates that body cameras will be a “mandatory equipment” to be worn by law enforcers during actual drug operations.

VP urges care in issuing warrants

Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday also called on members of the judiciary to be extra vigilant when issuing search warrants to ensure that this would not lead to any killing or abuse.

Robredo echoed the statement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo, a chief justice aspirant, that a judge must conduct a personal inquiry before issuing warrants of arrest.

“This is a reminder to all members of the judiciary who give out search warrants. They must ensure that what they are giving out would not be used to kill or lead to any abuse of power,” the Vice President said in her program over radio station dzXL.

“Securing a search warrant should not be that easy. There must be personal knowledge, proper determination of the judge on the circumstances as well as the day and time of serving the search warrant. There should be safeguards,” she added.

Robredo, a lawyer, also reiterated her call for a “fair” investigation into the killing of nine activists in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) on March 7 as well as that of Aquino on March 8. – Evelyn Macairan, Helen Flores

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