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Lawyers’ group starts buildup of cases vs Duterte

/ 04:53 AM October 22, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — Planning to file a slew of charges against President Duterte and his men after the end of his term in 2022, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) on Monday expressed hope that the cases would bring justice to the thousands of victims of human rights violations under his administration.

The President loses his immunity from suit once he steps down from office in 2022.

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As the group gathers evidence to present to local and international courts, NUPL president Edre Olalia said the move was not being done simply out of revenge, but to provide legal remedy to individuals whose rights had been abused.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Monday dismissed the threat of the NUPL, saying the President is more worried about improving the lives of Filipinos.

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“It’s a free country. Everyone is entitled to file any case against whom so they think that has violated the law. And let the courts decide the validity of such complaints,” Panelo said.

‘Not retiring in comfort’

The planned charges, Olalia said, were reminders that even if present and future erring officials leave their posts, they would “not be retiring in comfort.”

“It’s not vindictive … Whoever is accountable needs to be held [into account],” he said in an interview with the Inquirer. “Until those who are accountable do not change and are not penalized, we will run after them.”

At its 5th congress on Saturday, the NUPL resolved to begin preparing a series of criminal cases against the President and several state security officials involved in extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses from 2016 until the end of Mr. Duterte’s term.

Olalia said the respondents might include National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperson Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, as well as the former, present and future chiefs of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“President Duterte cannot even promise members of the police and military that they will not go to prison because [he] himself cannot escape criminal accountability once he steps down from office,” NUPL chair Neri Colmenares said in a statement.

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The former Bayan Muna party list representative also said that the complaints lodged against Mr. Duterte in international bodies, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations, would serve as templates for the cases to be filed against the President in local courts.

Panelo said the President was not worried about the possibility of facing cases once he loses his immunity from suit.

“The only worry that the President has is the sufferings of the people. That’s why he does a lot of things to make lives comfortable for them,” Panelo said.

Olalia said the charges would be “comprehensive” and wider in scope, going beyond the administration’s bloody war on drugs, already being investigated by the ICC and the UN Human Rights Council.

“[The past three years] has been a legal assault on all fronts,” the human rights lawyer said, noting that widespread “Red-tagging” has led to the persecution of individuals and organizations, as well as the filing of false charges against activists and other groups.

Charges planned

Among the charges being considered for filing in domestic courts, according to Olalia, are willful killing, persecution and other inhumane acts under the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity, as well as violations of the Revised Penal Code for grave threats and Civil Code for damages for violation of constitutional rights.

In recognition of the NUPL’s limited capacity and the threats to safety, Olalia said the group was seeking to tie up with other lawyers’ groups, both local and international, in readying the complaints.

Despite the odds seemingly stacked against it, the NUPL remains optimistic that the rule of law would prevail, he said.

“There are lots of things that seem impossible at the moment, but can be possible when all the right conditions are in place,” Olalia said. “But we have to act now because we cannot agree that what is happening is acceptable.”

He added, “[Those men] are not untouchables.” —With a report from Julie M. Aurelio

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