Lawyers Lenie Rocel Rocha, Jan Vincent Soliven and Romulo Bernard Alarcon are handcuffed following their arrest at the Time Bar in Makati City Thursday afternoon.
Image released by the Southern Police District.
CHR probes arrest of lawyers in Makati
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - August 19, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has begun its own investigation on the arrest of three lawyers for supposedly “threatening” police officers conducting a search of a bar reportedly used as a drug den.

CHR chair Chito Gascon said yesterday they sent a quick response team to monitor the situation involving the arrest of lawyers Lenie Rocel Rocha, Jan Vincent Soliven and Romulo Bernard Alarcon.

“We are very concerned by this because it is essential to ensuring protection of human rights that lawyers are insulated from assault and be given the widest latitude to advocate for the best interests of their clients,” he said. 

“They should be able observe whether law enforcement officials are at all times keeping within the bounds of proper legal processes. That lawyers are arrested for doing their duty undermines respect for the rule of law,” he added.

The three lawyers were arrested for allegedly failing to observe police protocol while police officers were conducting a search of Time Bar.

They were charged with obstruction of justice, resistance and disobedience and constructive possession of illegal drugs for supposedly entering the area cordoned off by the police without proper coordination.

They were released Friday night, after more than 24 hours in detention, after the inquest prosecutor recommended the case for further investigation.

Former vice president Jejomar Binay went to the city prosecutor’s office shortly after visiting the lawyers at the police station. He said he wanted to ensure their rights would be respected.

CHR commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit slammed the arrest of the lawyers, calling it a brazen disregard for due process by the Makati police.

“The lawyers were present at the place of incident to exercise their client’s constitutional right to counsel and due process. It is alarming that the exercise of such rights was met with allegations of obstruction of justice, which the police has yet to qualify,” she added.

Dumpit said the proper remedy if the police felt harassed is not to arrest the said lawyers for harassment but to file a complaint in the discipline office of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

“By arresting the lawyers, the police effectively sends a chilling effect to lawyers and their clients who were merely exercising their rights,” she said.

“The fact that the inquest is delayed is equally disturbing, especially if caused by some whimsical reason, such as the arresting officer being nowhere to be found,” added Dumpit.

Various groups, including the IBP, have condemned the arrest of the lawyers.

IBP president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo earlier dubbed the arrest as “highly questionable,” expressing readiness to file a petition for habeas corpus to seek the release of the lawyers.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers said charging lawyers for trying to ensure regularity in an operation against their clients is appalling and absurd. 

“While the lawyers were preventing possible abuse of police authority and mishandling of evidence, as were the case in many past drug-related investigations and operations, the Makati City police proved them right by arresting them without legal cause,” it said.

“Attacks on lawyers and the judiciary clearly show that the administration knows no bounds in repressing democratic rights,” it added.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Leila de Lima and Francis Pangilinan – all lawyers – condemned the arrest.

Drilon said the arrest and filing of charges poses “threats on the rule of law, basic pillar of our democracy.” He said he cannot recall any law or jurisprudence which authorizes the arrest of lawyers for “pressuring” policemen during the conduct of a search.

De Lima said “tokhang is no longer for the poor and defenseless alone… Everyone is now equal, not before the law, but in the breakdown of the rule of law and (President) Duterte’s reign of impunity.”

Pangilinan said police officers ignored the law and human rights when they arrested the lawyers. – With Robertzon Ramirez, Marvin Sy

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS JAN VINCENT SOLIVEN LENIE ROCEL ROCHA ROMULO BERNARD ALARCON
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