UP College of Law asks SC: Address, probe police request for list of leftists’ lawyers
MANILA, Philippines — At least 157 members of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law faculty and more than 700 lawyers have asked the Supreme Court (SC) to address and investigate a police station’s request for a list of lawyers representing alleged members of communist groups.
According to a letter from UP College of Law Dean Edgardo Carlo Vistan II, the high court must act on the Calbayog City Police Station’s request as it affects the independence of the judiciary and lawyers, who are allowed to represent clients regardless of political beliefs and ideologies.
In Vistan’s letter dated March 16, he said that aside from investigating and coordinating with offices in the executive branch, the SChas the power to protect lawyers from harassment, Red-tagging, and even attacks.
“With respect, our letter-request speaks for itself and conveys our outrage and our concern over the police action, through a letter sent by Lt Fernando Calabria Jr. to the Calbayog City Clerk of Court, to transgress the independence of the judiciary through its aborted attempt to secure the names of lawyers representing so-called ‘CTGs’,” Vistan said in the 14-page letter, which includes the faculty and the lawyers’ joint appeal.
“We do believe that this Court is vested with sufficient power under the Constitution to protect its officers, including lawyers, prosecutors, and judges, as well as its staff and personnel from such threats, intimidation, and even killings. For this reason, we now seek the Court’s intervention to protect its lawyers, its officers, and to ensure that the administration of justice is not held hostage by threats, pressure, and intimidation by yet unidentified people acting with impunity,” he added.
Last Friday, the letter-request of Calbayog City Police to Calbayog Regional Trial Court (RTC) made the headlines as the police asked for the list of lawyers representing persons suspected of being part of so-called communist terrorist groups (CTGs).
This letter was then relayed by the Calbayog RTC to the SC, but the RTC said that they have not made any action on the police’s request.
The faculty members and the 736 lawyers who signed the document said in the subsequent letter that they are bothered about the attempt to curtail civil rights and liberties, and intimidate lawyers defending left-leaning activists and those accused of membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Those who signed the document claim that the Calbayog City Police’s actions were in violation of paragraphs 16 and 18 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which says that governments should ensure that lawyers can perform their functions without being intimidated, harassed, and interfered, and without being made to suffer for their actions connected to their professional duties.
Vistan broke down the lawyer’s appeal to SC in five specific requests:
- that the matter be docketed as an administrative matter for the attention of the Court En Banc;
- the convention of a “Special Committee to Protect Lawyers” headed by a senior SC justice, with representatives from the third, second, and first-level courts, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, lawyers’ networks, and the academe;
- order the Committee to investigate the Calbayog Police’s letter, and verify whether it has connections with profiling, red-tagging allegations, and the killings of lawyers, and the possible creation of rules to avoid such circumstances;
- appoint a general counsel from the Committee to work within a set timeline prescribed;
- coordinate with the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government regarding the issue
Vistan then claimed having received reports about several other letters being sent to courts – indicating that such police action might happen again.
Vistan said the incident has already sent a chilling effect on judges and lawyers.
“While the letter sent by Lt Calabria Jr. has been disowned by the Acting Head of the PNP, similar letters making the same request have been received by other judges, thus making this issue one that is ‘capable of repetition yet evading review’,” Vistan said.
“Also, disowning the letter ex post facto, only after it had gone ‘viral’, flies in the face of the ‘chilling effect’ already created by such attempt on lawyers, prosecutors, and judges,” he added.
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