This week, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the mandatory group of lawyers in the country, applauded the actions of the Supreme Court in addressing the threats and killings of lawyers and the red-tagging of judges.
“As the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court stand with us, we will resolutely and proactively protect our members and do our sworn duty to seek the truth, do justice, and promote peace,” the IBP said in a statement.
We are sure, many welcome the full court statement of the High Court, headed by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, on the safety and security of lawyers and judges.
The IBP, the country’s mandatory lawyers’ group vowed to work with the judiciary, government agencies, other sectors, and lawyers to improve the security of all those who labor to promote the rule of law.
At the same time, eight lawyer-senators, both from the minority and majority blocks, have united in strongly condemning the alarming number of killings of and violence against lawyers and judges in the country.
In a resolution filed by them, they also urged President Rodrigo Duterte to undertake the necessary steps in ensuring the safety of the members of the legal profession.
The bipartisan resolution was filed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, together with Senators Edgardo Angara, Pia Cayetano, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Francisco Pangilinan, Aquilino Pimentel IV, and Francisco Tolentino.
“Our lawyers play a crucial role in the administration of justice in the country, especially in representing the most marginalized members of the community,” the senators said in the resolution.
Senate Resolution 691 cited the Department of Justice data which revealed that 54 members of the legal profession have been killed since 2016 and only five cases have reached the courts.
The Free Legal Assistance Group reported that 100 lawyers have been killed in the last 20 years, the resolution noted.
“The continuing flagrant and horrific attacks on the lawyers, prosecutors, and judges and the failure to condemn, investigate, and prosecute these acts of violence and bring the perpetrators to justice is an act of injustice in itself and erode the public’s trust and confidence in our justice system,” the lawyer-senators said.
We heard the echoes of their statement: “The brazen acts of violence against lawyers send a chilling message to the members of the bench and the bar who, in the performance of their responsibilities to the society as administrators of justice, should be able to exercise their sworn duties and represent their clients or dispense justice without threats, persecution and fear for their safety and their lives.”
Two lawmakers from the House of Representatives also commended the Supreme Court for denouncing and taking initial action on the “alarming litany of lawyers, including judges, who have been killed and intimidated during the past several years.”
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said “the strong and unequivocal statement of the Supreme Court is a feather in its cap, and its awaited final action can be a crowing jewel in its ministry of the law.”
“To buttress its resolve, the high court made the latter part of April 2021 the deadline for the submission of all requisite information from lower courts, law enforcement agencies, and lawyers’ groups for it to take further actions, ‘including the amendments of the relevant rules, or if necessary, the creation of new ones’,” added Lagman.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate echoed Lagman’s view.
“We welcome the SC’s taking cognizance of the condemnable, yet, still continuing attacks against lawyers, judges, and even ordinary Filipinos under the present atmosphere of wanton disregard of the rule of law and justice,” Zarate said.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers also welcomed the actions done by the SC.
“It is generally both comforting and reassuring to the legal community even as it took some precious time to happen and at great cost,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said.
“At this crucial juncture when the other institutions have defaulted on us, we fervently welcome these bold and unequivocal declarations, initial steps and further plans from our very own refuge,” he said.
According to him, the NUPL’s cooperation with the SC’s directives “even as we have been sounding out the clarion call and providing information and concrete recommendations for the longest time.”
“We shall continue to move, plead and pray that our Court continue to stand by its own magistrates, its officers of the court, and our people and that it ensures or provides more effective and timelier remedies especially against grave abuse of power and attacks on liberties,” he said.
The Commission on Human Rights also welcomed the steps laid down by the Supreme Court in defense of the country’s lawyers and judges as they continue to face harassment and threats to their lives.
Lawyer-spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said it was high time that a stronger message be sent on the invaluable role of lawyers and judges in upholding human rights, particularly to due process, and the rule of law.
“Courts, lawyers and judges are crucial in administering justice, as well as in uncovering the truth, especially for gross human rights violations,” she said in a statement.
The SC on March 24 issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the series of attacks against lawyers and judges in the country.
“We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles, and speculate on the worth of human lives. 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,” the SC said.
“This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the Court’s watch,” it added.
“We are aware that there are wayward elements who, in their zeal to do what they think is necessary, would simply brush aside the limitations in our law as mere obstacles. This should never be countenanced, for it is only in the enjoyment of our inalienable and indivisible rights that our freedoms become meaningful,” the high court stressed.
As part of its actions to address issue, high court required all trial courts and law enforcement agencies, and the public – through public interest organizations, and lawyers’ and judges’ groups – to provide information on lawyers’ threats and killings the past 10 years and to submit them to its Public Information Office.
It said it will deliberate and promulgate rules on the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers in serving search and arrest warrants, and will determine if they can cover buy-bust operations in illegal drugs cases.
The Office of the Court Administrator was also tasked to coordinate with law enforcement agencies on the probe on the red-tagging of a Mandaluyong City regional trial court judge who acquitted a journalist and a trade unionist on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
At the same time, the SC said all incidents on threats and killings of lawyers should be referred to the trial courts for proper remedies such as writs of Amparo and habeas data.
The Court’s action came following the letters and manifestations of various sectors on threats and killings of lawyers.
We have our eyes and ears, as well as the three other parts of our sensory organs, on the observation deck.