CHR to conduct independent probe into Cebu lawyer slay

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
CHR to conduct independent probe into Cebu lawyer slay
Lawyer Rex Fernandez was killed by unidentified perpetrators in an ambush in Banawa, Cebu City on August 26, 2021.
The Freeman / Romeo Marantal

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights will conduct its own probe into the killing of Cebu-based public interest lawyer Rex Fernandez as it reminded the government of its duty to protect human rights.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement that they will be sending a quick reaction team to look into the brazen killing of Fernandez.

The lawyer was shot in his vehicle in Cebu City on August 26. His driver was also reportedly injured.

“CHR decries the brazen assault against a person’s right to life. No reason can ever justify any act that will arbitrarily deprive a person of their life,” De Guia said.

She also noted the “numerous assaults against lawyers” and how members of the legal profession “fallen victims to injustices and human rights violations that they have sworn to fight.”

The Commission called on the government to immediately probe the killing as the list of unsolved murders and attacks continue.

“CHR reminds the government of its obligations in upholding and protecting the rights of all… We urge the government to swiftly act and investigate this case and hold the perpetrators to account. Justice must prevail,” she added.

Lawyers’ groups have noted an increase in the number of attacks on lawyers in the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

An independent tally from the Free Legal Assistance Group said that in March, at least 61 lawyers were killed in Duterte’s term, higher than murders in the legal profession combined in the past six administrations spanning 44 years. This would put Fernandez as the 64th lawyer killed in the current administration.

A separate list from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said Fernandez is the 57th lawyer killed on prima facie or on first impression due to work.

SC committee: New reports on assaults on lawyers welcome

Supreme Court Committee on Human Rights Chair, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen expressed condolences to the family and Fernandez as he also reiterated the SC’s condemnation of assault on lawyers in March.

“The killing of any lawyer is of serious concern to all of us. Violence solves nothing. It is anathema to the rule of law,” Leonen said.

In March, the 15 incumbent justices of the SC, in a rare statement, said that threats on judges and lawyers are an assault on the judiciary, and to do as such “is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands.”

It vowed that attacks “cannot go undenounced on the Court’s watch” and asked concerned groups to submit reports on the incidents.

Leonen said the Committee on Human Rights is sifting through and analyzing the submitted reports “to discern whether there are patterns in the killing of lawyers and threats to judges so that we can evaluate a strategic response.”

But the committee chair said they will continue to welcome new reports from police and other organizations in the killing of Fernandez.

“We understand that the law enforcement authorities, and human rights and other groups will need time to gather the evidence and therefore invite them to submit to us their findings by the end of September at the latest,” Leonen said.

“Shortly after, we will be submitting our report and recommendations for the action of the Court En Banc,” he added.

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