FLAG: 61 lawyers slain in Duterte term — higher than killings from Marcos to Aquino admins

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
FLAG: 61 lawyers slain in Duterte term � higher than killings from Marcos to Aquino admins
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 — The number of lawyers killed in nearly five years into the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is higher than murders in the legal profession combined in the past six administrations spanning 44 years, a list collated by the Free Legal Assistance Group showed.

FLAG has tallied 61 lawyers slain since June 2016, while a total of 28 killings of lawyers were recorded since 1972, during the Martial Law rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. to 2016, end of administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, Duterte’s predecessor.

A separate list culled from the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice, first provided to Rappler, showed 49 killings from Marcos to Benigno Aquino III administration. The number is still higher than the murders recorded just five years into the Duterte administration.

Broken down, data from FLAG showed seven lawyers killed or disappeared in Marcos rule; nine in the administration of the later Corazon Aquino; none in former President Fidel Ramos’ administration; two in former President Joseph Estrada’s term; nine in former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, and one in Aquino’s term.

FLAG Metro Manila coordinator Theodore Te acknowledged that there may have been more killings under Marcos’ martial law rule. “The list is not intended to be comprehensive, it is far as we know. There are more names that are certainly not there,” he said.

Te added: “Killings over private disputes by private persons are not included as they wouldn’t directly cover a violation of human rights.”

Earlier, FLAG reported that of the 61 killings in Duterte’s term, 26 are tagged as work-related, 15 as drug-related, 12 due to personal motives while motive in 15 other cases remain unknown.

“The fact that almost half of the killings were due to work-related or possibly work-related motives is an indicator of the growing danger of practicing the legal profession in the country,” it added.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, in its independent tally, recorded 54 killings that are “prima facie work-related.”

Human Rights Watch Philippines researcher Carlos Conde said that the findings that most of killings are under Duterte’s term “demonstrates the unsettling extent of impunity in the Philippines.”

“[B]y targeting rights defenders, journalists and now lawyers, it is making sure that accountability and justice remain unattainable, that impunity will prevail. This needs to stop,” he added.

Continued attacks against lawyers

Lawyers group have been pressing the government for action on continued attacks on the legal profession. In a letter to the Supreme Court in December, they stressed that under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers that governments are mandated to ensure that they are able to perform their duties without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.

On top of the killings under the Duterte administration, four lawyers have also survived a violent attack according to National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers. The latest victim is Angelo Karlo Guillen, a public rights defender and counsel on petitions against Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. He survived an assassination attempt in Iloilo in the first week of March.

Just last week, the Calbayog Regional Trial Court confirmed that it received a request from local police, citing compliance from “higher offices,” of a list of lawyers representing what it called “communist terrorist groups.”

The Philippine National Police has since relieved Calbayog City Police Station’s chief of intelligence unit Lt. Fernando Calabria, but the NUPL said denial from the top brass and relief of local officers should not be the end of this issue and called for a thorough investigation.

The Supreme Court in January called for meetings with lawyers’ groups and concerned government agencies. Court Administrator Midas Marquez said then that they are preparing a report for Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, but as the report was being crafted, lawyer Winston Intong was gunned down while he was buying vegetables near his house in Bukidnon, barely three weeks into January.

The Department of Justice meanwhile has completed its inventory of cases pending on lawyer killings, but has yet to make it public.

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