Rights lawyer survives attack by playing dead, loses all case files
ILOILO CITY—Human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen lost all his case files to two men who tried to kill him with screwdriver stabs to the head in an attack that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Friday said had demonstrated the “chilling effect” of Red-tagging.
Guillen stopped struggling and pretended to be dead after one of his attackers stabbed him with a screwdriver, leaving it still embedded in his left temple when paramedics found him bleeding on a street in Iloilo City on Wednesday night, according to one of his friends.
“After he fell to the ground, he was at first kicking at one of the men who was near his legs while also trying to parry the stabbing of the one near his head,” Guillen’s friend told the Inquirer by phone in reply to questions for the lawyer who is recuperating in a hospital in Iloilo City.
Guillen’s friend asked not to be identified for security reasons.
After Guillen stopped moving, the assailants who wore ski masks, fled on two motorcycles driven by two accomplices.
The assailants took his backpack with personal belongings and a shoulder bag containing his laptop, external disk for backup files and case documents. They did not take his wallet and smartphone, which were inside his pockets.
All the documents of all his cases were in the laptop and external disk, Guillen told his friend.
According to Rene Estocapio, vice president for Visayas of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the 33-year-old lawyer was working late on Wednesday and was walking from his car to his boarding house when he was attacked.
Investigators are initially eyeing robbery as a motive but are also looking into the cases handled by Guillen. Lawyer’s groups and progressive organizations believe the attack was made to appear as a simple robbery but was really intended to kill Guillen who is assistant vice president for Visayas of NUPL and secretary general of its Panay chapter.
The NUPL believes the assailants also were after Guillen’s case documents.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Thursday condemned the “brazen and bloody assassination attempt.”
Guillen is one of the NUPL lawyers representing Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Karapatan, Movement Against Tyranny and other groups questioning the legality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in the Supreme Court. Their petition is one of 37 against the controversial law.
He is also legal counsel for at least two of the 16 leaders and members of the Tumandok, the Panay-Bukidnon indigenous people, who were arrested in a coordinated police operation in Capiz and Iloilo provinces on Dec. 30, 2020. Policemen killed nine Tumandok leaders who allegedly resisted when they were served search warrants for firearms and explosives.
Police and military officials and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) have accused those killed and arrested as leaders or supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA), a claim repeatedly denied by family members and several village officials.
Those arrested are detained at the Iloilo provincial jail in Pototan town. Six of those arrested have been arraigned for illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives.
One of Guillen’s key witnesses in the case, Barangay Roosevelt Chair Julie Catamin, was assassinated just three days before he was attacked. Catamin had accused the police of planting the weapons and explosives.
Aside from preparing for the cases of the arrested indigenous people’s leaders, Guillen was working on the case of Bayan-Panay secretary general Elmer Forro who is facing a murder complaint for allegedly being with a group of NPA rebels, which clashed with government troops in Lambunao town in Iloilo last April.
In a statement on Friday, Drilon said the attack on Guillen has proven the need for a stronger government policy against Red-tagging, which is the unproven accusation that a person or a group was part of the communist underground.
Both Guillen and the NUPL had been Red-tagged.
“The assassination attempt on Guillen is particularly disquieting in light of the issue on Red-tagging,” Drilon said. “His case lays the basis for the need for a stronger policy against Red-tagging.”
The Ilonggo senator said Congress “should provide sufficient remedies to protect the victims of Red-tagging activities.”
Legal remedies enough
“The attempt on the life of Guillen sends a chilling effect on members of the legal profession—lawyers, judges and justices. When lawyers can no longer do their job freely and without fear of being killed, that is when the rule of law begins to weaken,” the senator said.
But the Senate national defense and security committee recently concluded that there was no need to criminalize Red-tagging since there were enough legal remedies in current laws to protect activists and administration critics from unfounded accusations of supporting the CPP-NPA.
The committee chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson completed a 66-page report on Feb. 22 based on a series of hearings on Red-tagging last year. It was signed by 11 senators including the panel chair and reported out in a plenary session on Monday.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros signed the document but differed with the panel’s conclusions. “I dissent to the argument that Red-tagging does not violate human rights just because there are existing laws that provide legal redress,” she wrote beside her signature.
“I dissent because I maintain that the NTF-Elcac/[Army Lt.] Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. should be held fully accountable for their continuous Red-tagging of schools, indigenous people, media groups and activists, among others,” she said. —WITH A REPORT FROM DJ YAP
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