MANILA – The national government is investigating continued killings of lawyers and judges in the country and will persecute all perpetrators, Malacañang said Thursday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this statement after the Supreme Court, in a strong statement on Tuesday, condemned attacks on members of the bar and the bench.
“Gagampanan po ng ating ehekutibo ang katungkulan ng estado pagdating sa pagpatay ng lahat ng kaniyang mga mamayan ito po ay madaliang imbestigasyon at bigyan ng remedyo sa ating batas ang mga naging biktima (The executive will discharge the duty of the state when it comes to killings of its citizens through immediate investigations and remedies under our law for the victims),” he said in a virtual press briefing.
Roque expressed support for the High Court’s call for a definitive course of action to protect the judiciary.
“Ang Pangulo at ang inyong abang lingkod ay parehong abogado rin (The President and I are both lawyers). We are both officers of the court serving in the Executive Branch of government so of course we fully support yung deklarasyon po ng ating hukuman (the declaration of our court),” he added.
He said the Department of Justice (DOJ), through its task force on extrajudicial killings, has committed to solving the killings.
“Nagkaroon na nga po ng deklarasyon ang DOJ na talagang tututukan nila sa kanilang bagong binuong inter-agency ang mga pagpapatay din laban sa mga abogado (The DOJ made a declaration that their newly formed inter-agency will focus on these killings against lawyers),” he said.
He rejected allegations that the killings of lawyers and judges served as an indication that law enforcers or executives have failed to address threats on the judiciary.
“Sa larangan ng karapatang pantao, wala namang pong guarantee na hindi magkakaroon ng paglabag sa karapatang mabuhay. Ang talagang obligasyon po ay bigyan ng remedyo, bigyan ng imbestigasyon at parusahan ang mga pumapatay (When it comes to human rights, there is no guarantee that there will not be violations to the right to live. The obligation of the state is to give remedies, investigate, and prosecute the assailants),” he said.
Roque said Duterte himself was “alarmed” by the unabated attacks on lawyers and judges.
“Dating piskal po ang Presidente at siya rin po ay nababahala na ang mga kapwa niya abogado at nagiging biktima rin. Siyempre pag inatake abogado (The President is a former prosecutor and he is also alarmed that fellow lawyers are victims. Of course, an attack on lawyers) it is also an attack on the rule of law,” he added.
On Tuesday, the 15-member High Court asked lower courts, law enforcement agencies and lawyers, and judges’ groups to provide relevant information about such attacks “to shed light on the number and context of each and every threat or killing of a lawyer or judge within the past 10 years.”
“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands. This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the court’s watch,” the court said in a statement read by their spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka.
The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) earlier reported that 61 lawyers, prosecutors and judges have been killed over the past five years under the Duterte administration, more than the 28 who were assassinated from 1972 until he took office.
‘CHR as complainant’
Asked to respond to a report by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that the Philippine National Police (PNP) used “excess, unreasonable” force “and had the “intent to kill” suspects during drug-related operations, Roque urged the independent body to gather evidence for every victim and submit them before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
“Ang kinakailangan po gawin ng CHR, sang-ayon na rin sa kanilang mandato, ay kumalap ng ebidensya kada biktima ng sa tingin nila na illegal use of force sa panig ng mga state agents at iassemble ‘yan at ibigay sa ating piskalya or sa ating NBI para sila po ay makapag file ng kaso. Kung hindi po gagawin ito ng CHR wala pong mangyayari kung dakdak lang sila ng dakdak (What the CHR needs to do, in accordance to their mandate, is to gather evidence of each victim of illegal use of force and assemble that to present them before the fiscal or our NBI so that cases can be filed. If the CHR doesn’t do this nothing will happen if they just keep talking),” he said.
Roque said the CHR can also stand as a complainant in cases to get the criminal justice system moving.
“Walang hadlang para maging complainant ang CHR para lang po ma-trigger at magsimula ang criminal justice system (Nothing is stopping the CHR from standing as the complainant to trigger and start the criminal justice system),” he added.
Meanwhile, he acknowledged the need to institute reforms in the justice system which has repeatedly been tagged as “slow.”
“I will agree na kinakailangan ng reporma hindi lang sa parte ng ehekutibo kung hindi na rin sa parte po ng lahat ng pillars ng criminal justice system kasama na po diyan ang hukuman, ang prosecution, ang investigation, at ang ating mga nagkukulong o yung penology at siyempre po sa panig din po ng mga mamayan o ang civil society (I will agree that there is a need for reforms not just in the executive branch but in all pillars of the justice system including the judiciary, prosecution, investigation, penology and of course civil society),” he said.
The CHR earlier investigated nearly 3,300 killings in Metro Manila, Central and Southern Luzon resulting from alleged police operations and vigilante killings between May 2016 and March 2021.
Of the total, 1,912 people were killed in police operations, while 1,382 others died in attacks by unidentified assailants.
CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel Gana said their report showed that “several circumstances and evidence that showed possible abuse of strength and intent to kill.”
Duterte has been vocal about his promise to protect police and military officers that use force in the line of duty but noted that he will never tolerate abuses. (PNA)