Rights group: 59 lawyers slain in 6 years in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — At least 133 lawyers have been killed in the Philippines since the 1980s in work-related attacks, nearly half of them in the last six years during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s turbulent term, a prominent group of lawyers said Saturday.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers also said that harassment of lawyers and judges in the Philippines has continued under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June, despite alarms raised by the country’s Supreme Court and international watchdogs.

Last year, the Supreme Court condemned in a rare public expression the rising number of killings and threats against lawyers and judges and asked lower courts, law enforcers and lawyers’ groups to provide information about such assaults in the last 10 years so it can take preemptive steps. The attacks “cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours,” the high court said.

The lawyers’ group reported to its members in a conference on Saturday that 59 of the 133 lawyers killed in the country since 1984 were slain under Duterte.

Most of the killings remain unsolved and the attackers unidentified although state forces have been blamed for dozens of the attacks against lawyers, who were apparently targeted for representing human rights defenders and activists, according to Melai Pinlac of the lawyers’ group.

Founded in 2007 as a private group of mostly rights lawyers, it has since lost five members “in murderous attacks” while three other members survived violent assaults. Several other members “faced trumped-up charges” and harassment for doing their work, she said.

With the advent of social media, threats have become prevalent online with member lawyers becoming frequent targets of false accusations “and wrongful branding as terrorists, communists or destabilizers,” Pinlac said.

Others have been “red-tagged” — linked by authorities to communist guerrillas — and became targets of physical attacks especially during Duterte’s presidency, she said.

Edre Olalia, president of the lawyers’ group, said the attacks have failed to stop his organization from going after abusive government officials and military and police personnel. His group has pressed calls for judicial reforms and better treatment of poor suspects, including the imposition of affordable bail.

“We will not become extinct. We will multiply,” Olalia said. “We will flourish until our raison d’etre for being people’s lawyers ceases.”

Under Duterte, a number of lawyers who represented suspected drug dealers or were linked to the illegal drug trade were among those gunned down. Others came under attack after being linked to communist insurgents.

When he took office in 2016, Duterte launched a massive anti-drug crackdown that left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead, alarmed Western governments and sparked an International Criminal Court investigation as a possible crime against humanity.

The lawyers’ group sought protective writs from a Manila court in 2019, when Duterte was still in office, amid a spate of attacks against lawyers but the petition was denied. It asked the Supreme Court on Friday to reverse the ruling amid continuing harassment.

A Manila judge has recently come under threat from a former anti-insurgency official for dismissing a government petition to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing a terrorist organization. Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the official to explain her actions or face a possible fine or jail term for contempt of court.

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