‘Gun for hire’ eyed in Cebu lawyer’s slay
CEBU CITY—Police investigators were looking at contract killing in the ambush-slay of Cebuano human rights lawyer Rex Jesus Mario Fernandez along a busy street in the city on Thursday.
According to Col. Josefino Ligan, director of the Cebu City Police Office, the assailant was a “gun expert” or a “gun-for-hire” by the way he committed the crime.
“He knows what to do. I think he’s not a neophyte gunman,” Ligan said on Friday.
Fernandez, 62, was on board his car when shot by a lone gunman who waited for him at the corner of R. Duterte Street in Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City, on Thursday afternoon.
The lawyer, who was sitting on the front passenger seat, was killed on the spot.
His driver, Darvie Pondar, remained in critical condition from a bullet wound on his spine. The lawyer’s secretary, who was at the back seat of the car, was unharmed.
Police have summoned at least four persons in relation to the murder of Fernandez but they were not considered as suspects and were only “invited” for an interview, as they were mentioned by Fernandez in an Aug. 19 social media post as the persons who authorities should investigate if he got killed, said Ligan.
Fernandez’s post discussed his experiences in the condominium where he lived, where his refusal to pay monthly dues resulted in him losing the water supply to his unit.
The National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas is also conducting a separate probe into Fernandez’s slay.
Lawyer Rennan Augustus Oliva, NBI Central Visayas director, said he had sent out investigators to look for witnesses and into closed-circuit television footage near the crime scene.
Ligan said investigators who had spoken to Fernandez’s family learned that the lawyer did not receive any death threats prior to his death. But he said they would review all the cases handled by the slain lawyer as well as his conflict with the management of the condominium he lived in.
Hold the line
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu chapter said “the entire legal community cries in anger at this ruthless murder which brings immeasurable horror to the family, friends and colleagues” of Fernandez.
“We therefore urge the law enforcement authorities to investigate this case promptly, otherwise if no definitive resolution is made, threats and deadly assault on lawyers will persist with impunity,” it added in a statement.
Fernandez is the 57th lawyer who was killed under the Duterte administration said the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), of which Fernandez was a founding member when it was formed in 2007.
NUPL Cebu demanded “justice and accountability” not just for the death of Fernandez but also for “the unresolved killings of lawyers, paralegals and human rights workers.”
“We shall continue rising to the occasion in our promise to uphold human rights for all. We will hold the line even more,” it vowed.
Prior to his death, Fernandez served as legal counsel in numerous human rights cases in Central Visayas, including the cases of simple disobedience and violations of the Public Assembly Act of 1985 against the eight individuals in Cebu who got arrested for alleged violations of quarantine rules during an antiterror law rally last year.
In a statement on Friday, Karapatan also condemned the “regime that has encouraged and enabled the culture of impunity in our country.”
At the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, chair of the high tribunal’s committee on human rights, said they would await the result of the police investigation and would also welcome reports on the killing of Fernandez from human rights groups and other organizations.
“The killing of any lawyer is of serious concern to all of us,” Leonen said in a statement.
“Violence solves nothing. It is anathema to the rule of law,” he stressed.
He said the high court was still poring over the documents submitted by various groups on the attacks and threats against lawyers, prosecutors and judges.
The IBP earlier said that such incidents jumped by 500 percent since President Duterte, himself a lawyer and a former state prosecutor, was sworn into office in 2016. —REPORTS FROM NESTLE SEMILLA, MARIEJO S. RAMOS AND MARLON RAMOS
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.