NUPL: 'Steady increase' in work-related attacks on lawyers since 2016

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
NUPL: 'Steady increase' in work-related attacks on lawyers since 2016
Members of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers on Wednesday filed an administrative complaint against three officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict over their unabated red-tagging.
Karapatan, release

MANILA, Philippines — There have been 176 work-related attacks on lawyers, including 73 killings, in the past ten years and the numbers have surged since the start of the Duterte administration, data from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers showed.

In its report to the Supreme Court, the NUPL said it recorded “176 incidents of prima facie profession or work-related attacks against lawyers from January 2011 to April 22, 2021.”

“The highest number of incidents was documented in 2019, with at least 39 prima facie profession or work-related attacks. A steady increase in the number of such attacks has been observed since 2016,” it added.

Of the work-related incidents involving lawyers, the NUPL data showed that 2018, when 16 lawyers were killed, was the bloodiest for the law profession in the last ten years There have been, on average, seven killings of judges and lawyers per year.

Out of the 73 killings, alleged perpetrators were identified in at least 21 cases, but only one conviction was recorded.

The NUPL, a network of pro bono human rights lawyers, submitted its running documentation of attacks on Filipino lawyers to the SC Public Information Office on Friday. In March, the high court — in the face of mounting pressure for action on attacks on lawyers — asked public interest groups to provide them with vetted information on incidents of threats.

During Duterte administration: 54 work-related killings

From 1984 to 2021, the NUPL recorded 129 work-related killings of judges and lawyers. This covers seven administrations.

The most killings, 54 incidents, happened during President Rodrigo Duterte’s nearly five years in office. This means that 42% of the murders since 1984 happened in the present administration.

"Since he began his term, there have been an average of 11 killings per year or almost one per month. Most of these killings appear to be unresolved to date," it added.

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

NUPL data showed 45 lawyers and judges were killed during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, while 21 were killed in the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.

One was killed in the administration of former President Joseph Estrada, while four were killed in the last two years of Martial(1986-1986) of under Ferdinand Marcos. 

Four lawyers were killed during President Corazon Aquino’s term. The NUPL did not record any killing during the Fidel Ramos administration from 1992 to 1998.

104 other incidents of attacks since 2011

The NUPL also record 104 incidents of attacks on lawyers since 2011.

Nearly half of the reported attacks, 50 incidents, involve labelling of lawyers. Of these, 49 of the vilified lawyers are human rights lawyers, mostly from NUPL and its affiliates Union of Peoples' Lawyers in Mindanao and Public Interest Law Center, and the Free Legal Assistance Group.

NUPL’s Angelo Karlo Guillen is among the most recent victims of attacks on lawyers. He was supposed to join the presser but opted out “due to security reasons.”

In an affidavit that he read in the webinar, Guillen narrated that when he was attacked on March 3 in Iloilo, he was on his way to his rented place. When he felt the final blow in his left temple followed by a gush of liquid —presumably blood, his limbs stiffened and he stopped shouting.

Guillen said he pretended to be dead, while the perpetrators took his bag, containing case files.

The NUPL also monitored 36 incidents of threats, harassment and intimidation; 19 reports of surveillance; and 13 cases of frustrated killings and physical injury of strafing.

Lawyer Melanie Pinlac, in a webinar on Monday, explained that one incident resulted in both the injury and, later, the death of a lawyer.

The NUPL data also showed 12 lawyers reported false charges filed against them, three were detained arbitrarily and one was abducted or reported as disappeared.

Of the 104 attacks in the last decade, 89 incidents, or 86%, involved human rights and public interest lawyers.

Attacks more rampant in Duterte administration

The NUPL said it noted a “steady increase” of attacks since 2016 — the start of Duterte’s term.

The group said that 54 incidents or 52% of the 104 attacks on lawyers are allegedly participated in by state agents. Of the 30 incidents of vilification, 14 or nearly half were made by National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and its spokespersons, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade and Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy.

NUPL Chairperson Neri Colmenares said the Duterte is the “most intolerant of dissent” as the current president “doesn’t really want anyone to criticize or disagree with him”

NUPL Secretary-General Ephraim Cortez meanwhile said other presidents may have had a “pretense of democracy,” but Duterte “took out all pretense and unmasked the true character of government.”

“This gave the military establishment the support to do what they do now especially when the NTF-ELCAC was created,” Cortez added.

Pinlac, who presented the data at the webinar, noted that the “culture of impunity encourages attacks on lawyers.”

Rights lawyer Evalyn Ursua noted that the attacks on lawyers in the past three or four years “left lasting stains in our justice system,” and a change of administration will not easily make them go away.

RELATED: The Peralta Court: A quick shift to digitization and pressure over killings of activists, lawyers

Ursua urged the Supreme Court to take a “proactive stand” on these attacks, stressing that it is the institution tasked to protect lawyers.

“It cannot be business as usual. It has to act differently,” she added.

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