BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - April 27, 2019 - 12:00am

“Hi Ian, naa si Poch, but wa lagi ka sa list?” (Hi Ian, Poch is there, but why are you not in the list?” read the message sent to me by a friend early Monday morning on Facebook Messenger.

She was referring to that “Oust Duterte” association matrix that was published in Manila Times together with an article written by Manila Times chairman emeritus and presidential appointee Dante Ang – a specious matikmatik or reckoning out of who are allegedly in a conspiracy to oust the president.

The so-called matrix tagged journalist Ellen Tordesillas and some members of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Rappler,, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) as conspirators to a “coordinated media campaign” to discredit President Duterte. This was immediately followed with a confirmation by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo that the matrix came from the president himself.

The instant I saw the “matrix” I immediately knew that it came from a dubious source or, maybe, from a Google search. Whoever passed that information to the president must be out to embarrass him by taking advantage of his temperamental itch to smack at anyone who has caught his ire.

It’s not that the name of my good friend Catbalogan City prosecutor Alfonso “Poch” Cinco IV was there and mine was not. A fellow University of San Carlos College of Law alumnus, Poch was the NUPL’s vice president for the Visayas until sometime in 2013 when he went back to his hometown in Catbalogan City to take an assignment as prosecutor.

I, on the other hand, was selected sometime in 2017 by a handful of my peers at the NUPL Cebu Chapter as their indefinite “interim chairman” because we were too busy with our respective jobs to conduct a congress and regularly elect a permanent set officers.

So why was Poch’s name in the list and mine was not? Because the list was simply copied from an open list of officers from the NUPL national office. Unfortunately for Poch, being a former national officer of NUPL automatically qualified him as “adviser to the NUPL board,” so there he is in the list.

In Cebu, we keep no such lists. Anyone who has a record of or is trusted by clients to handle public interest cases such as violation of human rights and land reform disputes is adopted as NUPL member, and we didn’t mind. Maybe now, we do. In this unpredictable times, belonging to an organization summarily tagged by the state or by Duterte Diehard Supporters (DDS) as anti-government carries risks, potential or real.

When I stepped into the large shoes left by the late Atty. Ben Ramos as counsel for youth leader and organizer Myles Albasin (a former student of mine in UP Cebu) and five of her co-accused in the Mabinay illegal possession of firearms and explosives case, well-meaning friends advised me to be careful. Ben, the Negros-based human rights lawyer, if you recall, was murdered, not necessarily in connection with this case, but still Myles and her companions lost a good and trustworthy pro-bono lawyer in the person of Ben.

I’ve crossed the island of Negros from Cebu twice already for this case. No real feeling of danger hanging around me, of course. Gilok lang, that ticklish feeling when you can longer be assured that forces arbitrarily acting for or on behalf of the government or its officials won’t do anything reckless or stupid.

In these volatile times, I look for comforting words of reason. I found them in the statement of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC), one of the few civic organizations that have expressed alarm over the cavalier way the administration is tagging its enemies.

Always the tempered voice of reason on issues involving freedom of the press and of expression, the CCPC stood up to say: “We cannot help but be alarmed. A matrix presented by public officials could lead to something more than a verbal attack from those criticized. In the campaign on illegal drugs, many of those in the matrix were killed. The result from the media matrix could be worse: a muzzled or cowed press and journalists in jail, missing, or dead.

“We encourage the public to help defend our democratic institutions and systems. They may call out errors of media. And, more crucially, they can avert any attempt to stifle criticism against the conduct of those who govern.”

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