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SC condemns attacks on lawyers, judges; requests info from lower courts

By: - Reporter / @santostinaINQ
/ 05:30 AM March 24, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Following weeks of complaints of attacks on members of the bar and the bench, the Supreme Court, in a strong statement against threats to the judiciary, on Tuesday condemned the assaults and directed all lower courts to help in investigating them.

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The high court acknowledged the various letters and manifestations concerning the attacks on judges and lawyers, including those from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the University of the Philippines College of Law, Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and those who had questioned the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“We are all too aware that everything the court stands for must bend its arc toward ensuring that all its officers can fairly and equitably dispense their duties within the legal system, unbridled by the constant fear that such exercise may exact the highest cost,” the court said.

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“In this light, the court condemns in the strongest sense every instance where a lawyer is threatened or killed, and where a judge is threatened and unfairly labeled. We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles, and speculate on the worth of human lives,” it said.

“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands. This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the court’s watch,” the court said.

The statement was read by Brian Keith Hosaka, the court’s spokesperson.

The court said it “requested” lower courts, including the Muslim Sharia courts, and law enforcement agencies to furnish it with “relevant information” on the number and context of every threat or killing of a lawyer or a judge within the past 10 years.

It also urged public interest groups, lawyers and judges, and other citizens to provide “vetted information” on any threats or fatal attacks.

The court said it would deliberate in the last week of April on the information collected and received by its public information office from the lower courts and law enforcement agencies. It will then decide on what to do next, including amending certain rules or making new ones.

FLAG, which was founded during the Marcos dictatorship, had reported that 61 lawyers, prosecutors and judges have been killed over the past five years under President Duterte, more than the 28 who were assassinated from 1972 until he took office.

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In the most recent near fatal attack, two men stabbed lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), with a screwdriver that was left embedded on his skull before they escaped with his case files.

Use of body cameras

Guillen was representing several members of the Tumandok indigenous group who were arrested in a Dec. 30, 2020, police and military raid in Capiz province that left nine others from their community dead.

He was also a lawyer for a group led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), which challenged the legality of the antiterror law in the Supreme Court.

The court said it would also promulgate rules on the use of body cameras by law enforcers whenever they serve search or arrest warrants.

The magistrates specifically ordered the Office of the Court Administrator to coordinate with law enforcers in investigating the display of a poster that was purportedly put up by communist rebels to express their gratitude to Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court Judge Monique Quisumbing Ignacio for freeing “our comrades,” referring to journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago.

Charges of illegal possession of guns and explosives against the two were dismissed by Ignacio on grounds that the search warrant used by the police against them was faulty.

‘Wayward elements’

Some lawyers said the poster had insinuated the judge’s sympathies for Salem and Esparago, a dangerous Red-tagging tactic used by state forces.

The court said it was aware that there were “wayward elements who, in their zeal to do what they think is necessary, would simply brush aside the limitations in our law as mere obstacles.”

“This should never be countenanced, for it is only in the enjoyment of our inalienable and indivisible rights that our freedoms become meaningful,” the court said.

It encouraged lawyers who had experienced harassment, or whose clients had been threatened or harassed, to file the necessary motions, petitions or complaints in order for the courts to provide relief in each case, including petitions for the writs of amparo or habeas data.

The court said it would not merely “spectate as clear breaches of constitutional rights are carried out beyond its halls.”

“The Bench and the Bar, as well as the public, can rest assured that we will continue to unflinchingly comply with our constitutional duty to act decisively when it is clear that injustices are done,” it said.

The Supreme Court also called on the entire judiciary and members of the legal profession to remain “strong, steadfast and unwavering” in fulfilling their duties.

“At no more fitting time than now should the judiciary remain undaunted, with a clear vision of taking courage, enforcing the law, and upholding the supremacy of the Constitution,” said the court.

“True to the just virtues we all must fight for, our resolve is unqualified. We recognize the bravery of all the judges and lawyers who show up to administer justice in the face of fear. Let there be no doubt, the Supreme Court stands with them,” it added.

‘Bold declarations’ lauded

NUPL president Edre Olalia said the court’s statement was “generally both comforting and reassuring to the legal community even as it took precious time to happen and at great cost.”

“At this crucial juncture when the other institutions have defaulted on us, we fervently welcome these bold and unequivocal declarations—initial steps and further plans from our very own refuge,” Olalia said.

He assured the court that the legal community would cooperate with its directives.

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said the Supreme Court’s statement was an “acknowledgment of the worsening human rights situation in the country.”

He said his group also was prepared to submit reports on incidents of attacks from state forces.

—WITH A REPORT FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING
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