Lawyers call out police for profiling colleagues
Lawyers groups in Mindanao have urged the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police to investigate Surigao del Sur provincial police director Col. Dennis Siruno, for supposedly issuing a memorandum ordering the Lianga municipal police to profile lawyers acting as counsel to communist rebels.
Siruno, however, told the Inquirer that the memo was fake.
In a statement and open letter issued separately over the weekend, the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), ranking officers of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in Mindanao, and law school deans, among others, called out Siruno for “gross display of ignorance and blatant disrespect of the law.”
According to them, Siruno issued a memo on March 29 directing the Lianga police to profile “legal personalities providing litigation to CTG (communist terrorist group) cases.” Cited in that order was Carol Anne General of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).
The UPLM claimed further that its chairperson, Antonio Azarcon, and PAO lawyers Poreferio Baluran and Leodevico Avila were also profiled by Eastern Mindanao police.
According to Azarcon, intelligence operatives have been regularly visiting a family-owned resort, his residence, and law office.
‘Please read the laws’
On Friday, PAO chief Persida Acosta came to the defense of General and in a social media post, asked Siruno to “please read the laws.” She also urged him to spare General from “Red-tagging/profiling” as she was “just doing her job pursuant to Republic Act No. 9406 (the PAO law) and Section 30 of Republic Act No. 11479 (the Anti-Terrorism Act).”
The following day, Siruno denied that he issued the memo, saying he came to know about it only after it started spreading on social media in Surigao del Sur.
“I will start an investigation tomorrow (Sunday) and if I catch who was responsible (for making the memo), I will file administrative and criminal cases against those involved,” he said.
The supposed memo from Siruno was labeled as “confidential” and indicated that it was based on a meeting between personnel of the PNP’s regional intelligence division and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency who “observed that some legal personalities handling the cases of CTGs were repeatedly providing them assistance with regard to their criminal cases.”
“This is, to say the least, a gross display of ignorance and blatant disrespect of the law. More importantly, this is an undue interference and grave assault on the independence and role of lawyers in our justice system,” the lawyers said.
According to the UPLM, the move showed the PNP’s “utter ignorance to comprehend the role of an independent legal profession in a democratic society.”
“Already an affront to the legal community, profiling intensifies the climate of fear and repression pervading in the country while dedicated lawyers put their lives on the line performing their duties toward the court, society and clients,” the group said.
“Is the profiling of lawyers and members of the Bench now an official policy of the PNP?” the IBP-Eastern Mindanao asked.
They strongly urged authorities, particularly Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos and the PNP leadership, “to thoroughly and swiftly investigate this incident and impose the appropriate sanctions on the responsible official concerned.”
“Lawyers must be free to fulfill their sworn duties with passion and without fear of profiling, and worst, reprisals,” they said.
They also called on the Supreme Court “to take a more aggressive stance in protecting the members of the Bench and Bar, as these continuing attacks on the legal profession erode public trust and confidence in our justice system. Without a justice system, we have no civilization, no better than savages.”
The lawyers noted that similar incidents also took place in the past and these “sent clear chilling effects on the members of the Bar.”
They said that members of the police, “as law enforcers, are duty-bound and expected to assist in the administration of justice, not to make a mockery of our laws and transgress them with impunity.”
This is not the first time that lawyers have experienced harassment and police profiling. In 2021, the PNP also tried to profile lawyers in Calbayog City by asking a court for a list of lawyers representing activists and victims of red-tagging.