PNP listing lawyers for ‘red terrorists’
Following a recent attack on a lawyer, a Makabayan lawmaker denounced the Philippine National Police for asking courts to submit the names of lawyers for “personalities” belonging to “communist terrorist groups,” the terms used by security forces for suspected members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate on Friday shared a letter from the Calbayog City police station’s intelligence chief, Police Lt. Fernando Calabria Jr., addressed to the clerk of court of the local regional trial court (RTC) asking for a list of such lawyers.
Calabria’s March 12 letter did not say what was the purpose of the list but said it was “for subsequent submission to PNP higher offices.”
“This is a clear and present danger to the legal profession. This is an apparent hit list for targeting lawyers being prepared by the national PNP down to its lower levels,” Zarate said.
He noted that Calabria’s letter included a blank table which the clerk of court was to fill up to indicate the lawyer’s name, affiliation, client’s name, case filed, case status and a “mode of neutralization.”
Neutralized, in the language used by security forces, often means killed or incapacitated.
Asked to comment on the letter, Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, the PNP officer in charge, said he had “no idea about it,” but would inquire about its purpose.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said this was evidence that could link security forces to violent and even deadly attacks on lawyers who had been Red-tagged for representing individuals accused of involvement in the communist movement.
Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka confirmed the letter but said that “no action” has been taken by the Calbayog RTC. It was unclear whether it was the first such PNP request that has come to the high court’s attention.
“We profusely thank the police for helping us produce damning evidence against them,” Olalia said in a statement. “It is at first unbelievable for its impudence. But then again, it fits into the puzzle on the ‘who, what, why and how’ of these attacks. The only remaining question is when and where.”
‘Profiling and surveillance’
He told the Inquirer that if the court had provided the list, these lawyers would have been subjected to “profiling and surveillance … preparatory to further attacks in whatever form.”
“Essentially they (police) are asking for a hit list,” Olalia said.
Calabria made the request a little more than a week after lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen, the NUPL secretary general in Panay region, nearly died after he was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver by unidentified assailants who fled with his computer and all his case files just a few blocks away from a police station in Iloilo City.
Guillen represented two of 16 members of the Tumandok indigenous communities who opposed a dam project in Panay.
Nine other Tumandok leaders and community members were killed during separate raids in December last year by the police who were looking for firearms and explosives. The police said those killed and arrested were NPA members who fought back.
‘Should be denounced’
Zarate, who is a lawyer, said the police move “should not only be investigated, but should be denounced as well by the entire legal community as it clearly places the lives of officers of the court in danger.”
He cited the near fatal attack on Guillen and the 2018 murder of human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, a founding member of NUPL.
“Are the attacks then on Atty. AK Gullen, Atty. Ben Ramos and other human rights lawyers part of a coordinated campaign?” Zarate said.
Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares said such a move by the PNP should “not go unpunished and those who ordered them to constitute such a list should also be held to account.”
“All the lawyers in petitions against the antiterror law definitely fall within that list as we are considered lawyers of terrorists. Then they will list all lawyers of the opposition, then all activists. This is really horrible,” Colmenares said.
He added that the move is “intended to warn lawyers not to provide legal services to human rights [abuse] victims.”
“This will attack not just the constitutional right of the people to access to justice and judicial remedy. It is also an attack against the independent practice of the legal profession,” Colmenares said.
He urged the Supreme Court to inquire into whether the judges had acceded to the PNP’s request. This development should also be investigated by the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Human Rights Council, he said.
“The more reason now that the SC issue a temporary restraining order against the antiterror law and act decisively on the orchestrated attack on Red-tagged individuals and their lawyers,” Colmenares said. —WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS AND DEXTER CABALZA