South Cotabato human rights lawyer slain

Evelyn Macairan, John Unson - The Philippine Star

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — Two men on a motorcycle shot dead a human rights lawyer in Surallah, South Cotabato on Wednesday.

One of the suspects reportedly alighted from the motorcycle as it pulled over near the house of Juan Macababbad, 68, in Barangay Libertad and shot him several times.

Macababbad was pronounced dead on arrival in a hospital.

The victim was a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and vice chairman of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM).

Remegio Roxas, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-South Cotabato chapter, condemned the incident and asked the police to ensure the prosecution of the assailants.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said he ordered a thorough investigation into Macababbad’s murder.

”The PNP joins the legal community and the Filipino people in condemning the killing... I have ordered the police director of Region 12 to focus on this case to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Eleazar said.

The PNP chief said he ordered the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management to check the status of cases involving lawyers killed in the past five years and expedite the investigation of those which remain unsolved.

DOJ to conduct parallel probe

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said they would conduct a separate investigation into the killing, but would wait for the initial results of the PNP probe.

“As part of standard procedure, the DOJ (Department of Justice) will await the report of local police investigators and evaluate whether the killing falls under the jurisdiction of the inter-agency committee on EJKs (extrajudicial killings),” Guevarra said.

A task force created under Administrative Order 35 chaired by the DOJ secretary was tasked to investigate extrajudicial killings, tortures and other grave violations.

The UPLM said Macababbad is the 58th lawyer killed during the Duterte administration.

UPLM chairman Antonio Azarcon said the victim had received death threats. Azarcon believes the motive for the killing is work-related.

“The culture of impunity pervades with the lack of serious investigation and prosecution of thousands of extrajudicial killings in the country. The legal profession is not spared and our colleagues have become main targets,” Azarcon said.

Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for Environment (PNE) joined calls for an investigation into Macababbad’s murder.

”As human rights lawyer for indigenous lumads and small farmers opposing coal mining, plantations and aerial spraying in South Cotabato, he was always a target of death threats. We demand accountability from the Duterte government for perpetuating his deadly climate of impunity,” Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Leon Dulce said. – Neil Jayson Servallos and Rhodina Villanueva

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