Lawyer for red-tagged tribal folk stabbed; laptop, documents taken
A blue and yellow screwdriver was still embedded in the left temple of human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo “AK” Guillen when paramedics took him to a hospital in Iloilo City following what the largest lawyers’ group in the country on Thursday denounced as a “brazen and bloody assassination attempt.”
The police said the near-fatal stabbing on Wednesday night could have been a botched robbery, but they were looking into other possible motives.
But Guillen’s colleagues and the human rights community believe the assailants had intended to kill the 33-year-old lawyer who has been Red-tagged and represents 16 members of the indigenous Tumandok who were arrested in Capiz and Iloilo provinces on Dec. 30, 2020, for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and for alleged links to communist rebels.
Terror law petitioners
At least nine Tumandok were killed in last year’s Rizal Day raids by the military and police on the indigenous group, which opposes a government dam project that they said would inundate their ancestral lands.
The brutal attack follows the Feb. 28 assassination of Barangay Roosevelt Chair Julie Catamin, a key defense witness for the Tumandok represented by Guillen.
Guillen is also a legal counsel in one of the 37 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act in the Supreme Court.
The young lawyer, whom colleagues describe as soft-spoken and unassuming, also took part in a fact-finding investigation and reported on the coordinated police operations in Negros Oriental in 2019 that led to the deaths of 14 people, mostly farmers.
Rene Estocapio, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers vice president for Visayas, said Guillen was attacked at 9:15 p.m. on Wednesday by two men in ski masks who stabbed him in the head and neck as he walked from his car toward his boarding house in Barangay Villa Anita in Iloilo City.
Two other men on two motorcycles arrived moments later and fled with the assailants who took his bag that contained his laptop and some documents, he said.
Doctors on Thursday said he was in stable condition after they removed a 25-centimeter screwdriver from his left temple, a few centimeters of which had been jammed into his skull by one of the assailants.
At the hospital, Guillen told a friend on Thursday that he ran when he saw two men going after him. He said the men stabbed him repeatedly after he tripped, according to his friend who spoke with the Inquirer.
Guillen heard one of the assailants shout, “Get the bag!” before they fled, his friend said, adding that the men did not get his wallet, cell phone and other valuables.
Pro bono cases
In a statement, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said it “condemns the brazen and bloody assassination attempt on human rights, public interest, and indigenous peoples lawyer Atty. Angelo Karlo Guillen.”
IBP national president Domingo Egon Cayosa said Guillen handled “pro bono cases for the poor and the marginalized” and had been “Red-tagged and threatened many times.”
“Inflicting violence on those who seek justice is criminality in the highest degree,” Cayosa said.
He pointed to “the primary role of government to secure its citizens and its international obligation to ensure that lawyers can do their job without fear, harassment or retribution.”
Police Maj. Mark Evan Salvo, chief of the Iloilo City Police Station 1, said that based on an initial investigation, robbery could have been the the motive for the attack.
But he said they were also looking at the possibility that it was work-related because the lawyer’s laptop and files were taken.
“We still need to talk with [Guillen] to determine what was taken and the cases that he is handling,” Salvo told the Inquirer.
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said he was “very much alarmed” about the attack and decried that it took place just half a kilometer from the Iloilo City Police Office.
“Lawyers only do their function to protect their clients. As a lawyer myself, this is doubly important for me to be solved,” Treñas said in a statement.
He called on the Philippine National Police “to do everything possible to resolve this at the earliest possible time.”
Among boldest, youngest
In Manila, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message that he would refer the attack to a justice department task force “for appropriate action” if it was found to be related to Guillen’s advocacies.
“We’ll wait for attorney Guillen to make a statement about the incident,” he said.
The task force, created through Administrative Order No. 35 in 2012, is a special unit of the Department of Justice that investigates politically motivated or extrajudicial killings of members of civil society groups, political movements, people’s and nongovernment organizations, among others.
The NUPL, where Guillen serves as assistant vice president and also as secretary general of the group’s Panay chapter, condemned the attack.
“This is way too much, too many, too brazen, too evil,” said NUPL president Edre Olalia. “Hold tight, AK. Show these cowards what a fighter you are.”
He said Guillen is “one of the best and the brightest, among the boldest and youngest” NUPL lawyers.
54 killed since 2016
The NUPL said 54 lawyers and judges had been killed in attacks since President Duterte took office in 2016.
Estocapio said the assailants wanted to show they were plain robbers, but really intended to kill Guillen and get “important files and records” from the lawyer.
Olalia said they would file a manifestation in the Supreme Court next week concerning the attack and to press for their previous motions for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the antiterror law.
In a joint statement, nine lawyers representing some of the groups that oppose the antiterror law said a TRO on the law “could help address the worsening situation.”
One of them, Howard Calleja, told reporters in a virtual press briefing that a TRO may bring a “ceasefire.”
“We see that pending the [resolution of petitions against the antiterror law], the attacks continue and all of us 37 petitioners have been Red-tagged already,” he said.
Evalyn Ursua, who also signed the joint statement, urged the high court to take immediate action.
“Lawyers are considered the last line of defense in protecting the rights of the people. If we are being killed, who will defend our people?” she said, adding that the Supreme Court should demand action from the executive branch.
“We call on the Supreme Court as the constitutionally appointed guardian of civil liberties and protector of the legal profession to make immediate measures to stop these attacks,” the lawyers’ statement said.
Petty street crime
Reylan Vergara, vice chair of the human rights group Karapatan, said the authorities “simply cannot dismiss this incident as a petty street crime or robbery.”
“Guillen’s attackers obviously had the intent to kill him, targeting him in the head and upper body,” he said.
Peter Murphy, chair of International Coalition of Human Rights in the Philippines, said the killing of Catamin, the Barangay Roosevelt chief, and the stabbing of Guillen “are all calculated to silence witnesses and lawyers who would dispute police and military claims about the deadly events of Dec. 30.”
“While Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was telling the United Nations Human Rights Council last week that ‘the PH strongly emphasizes its legal and judicial system, its domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning as they should’, security forces in Panay were organizing the murder of Catamin and now the attack on Guillen,” said Murphy. “The international community cannot tolerate this brazen duplicity.” —WITH REPORTS FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING AND TINA G. SANTOS
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