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CHR troubled by red-tagging of Mandaluyong judge who freed journalist, trade unionist

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CHR troubled by red-tagging of Mandaluyong judge who freed journalist, trade unionist
Lawyers submit a letter to the Supreme Court on Dec. 22, 2020 urging action on the killings of lawyers.
National Union of Peoples' Lawyers via Bulatlat

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission of Human Rights on Wednesday said it was deeply concerned by the red-tagging of a regional trial court judge who ordered the release of journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago.

Less than a month after Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio cleared Salem and Esperago of charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, a tarpaulin linking her to the Communist Party of the Philippines surfaced on EDSA.

"In the wake of recent violent attacks on judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other legal professionals in the Philippines, such incriminating claims...without any specific and verifiable evidence exposes [Quisumbing-Ignacio] to grave danger," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.

"She is being attacked in connection to her decisions involving prosecutorial discretion and the exercise of due process rights."

Independent media network AlterMidya also expressed concern for Salem who, although released from detention, is red-tagged anew in the poster. 

De Guia cited Article 18 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers which states that members of the legal profession “shall not be identified with their clients or their client’s causes as a result of discharging their functions."

This same article was cited by the National Union of People's Lawyers last week when it accused police of attempting to create "a virtual hit list" by asking the Calbayog RTC to identify lawyers representing communist rebels.

READ: SC: Calbayog court confirms receipt of PNP request on list of lawyers for 'communist terrorist groups' | Cop relieved for asking Calbayog court for list of lawyers representing communist rebels

"We stress that members of the legal profession, such as lawyers and judges, are crucial in preserving Constitutional rights, such as the right to an independent counsel; right to defend oneself in court; and right to speedy, public, and impartial trial among others," De Guia also said.

She further urged the government to conduct "genuine" probes on cases of red-tagging.

Why does this matter?

As noted by the CHR, the red-tagging of Quisimbing-Ignacio is only the latest in a slew of attempts to cow members of the legal profession.

Before Calbayog police sought a list of lawyers for communist rebels from a regional trial court last week, Angelo Karlo Guillen, NUPL's assistant vice president for the Visayas, was stabbed in the head and shoulder by two unidentified assailants on March 3. Guillen, who survived the attack, represents arrested indigenous land defenders and is assisting in petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

A key witness to his case, Julie Catamin, was murdered less than a week before. Both Guillen and Catamin were red-tagged before they were attacked.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, at the time called for stronger laws against red-tagging, warning: "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."

An independent tally from the Free Legal Assistance Group shows that 61 lawyers were killed since the start of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, and almost half of these killings were tagged as work-related.

— Bella Perez-Rubio with reports from Kristine Joy Patag

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