Lawyer shot dead in Abra; ‘merciless’ slay condemned
BAGUIO CITY—A lawyer who has provided free legal services to poor litigants was gunned down on Thursday as she was parking her car outside her house in Abra’s capital city of Bangued in what the provincial governor said was a merciless attack.
Ma. Saniata Liwliwa Gonzales Alzate, wife of former Abra Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Raphiel Alzate, died as she was being treated at Dr. Petronilo V. Seares Sr. Memorial Hospital for multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Bangued police.
The police said she was shot by one of two men on a motorcycle at 4:55 p.m. while she was still inside her car in front of her house on Santiago Street.
The gunman fired through the window on the driver side of her white Mitsubishi sedan. The pair wore caps but did not conceal their faces as recorded in one closed-circuit television video taken from the scene, police said.
Robredo: ‘A huge loss’
Gov. Dominic Valera condemned the “merciless” attack on Alzate, whom he described as “a strong-willed lawyer, a defender of those in need and a friend to many.”
He urged law enforcers to conduct a “speedy and swift investigation” of the killing.
“Let us bring these perpetrators to justice,” Valera said. “Let us make a strong stand against this violence that threatens our goal of a peace-loving Abra.”
Former Vice President Leni Robredo joined calls for justice for Alzate, who played an active role in her election campaign in Abra.
“Her death is a huge loss, not only to the communities she served, but in our continuing fight to bring justice and fairness closer to our fellow Filipinos,” Robredo said in a Facebook post on Friday.
In a statement, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said “there is no place, nor can there be any tolerance, for those who would assail those dedicated to upholding the legal profession and cause of justice.”
It said that Alzate “upheld the highest standards of the legal profession, leaving behind an enduring legacy for us all.”
In a Facebook post, Alzate’s husband asked that instead of flowers, sympathizers donate to a legal aid fund for cases “to which she dedicated when she was still alive.”
Alzate, 48, had served as president of the Abra Chapter of the IBP and once headed its legal aid committee.
Edre Olalia, interim president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and former president of the human rights lawyers’ group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the attack on Alzate was “enabled by impunity engendered by passive, token and ningas cogon responses from State authorities … whose single most important job is to protect its citizens from harm.”
With the incident happening just three days before the start of the bar exams on Sunday, he said: “Can we tell our future colleagues that lawyering, especially those fighting for the rights of the poor and oppressed, is worth all the risks despite the body count in our ranks?”
According to NUPL, Alzate provided legal aid to a victim of alleged illegal arrest, detention and torture by police officers in January. She was able to secure a Writ of Amparo issued by the Regional Trial Court in Abra. The writ is a protective judicial remedy that includes specific measures against violations of constitutional rights to life, liberty or security.
NUPL said she had been providing pro-bono legal services to indigent litigants and had been serving as a private prosecutor in the killing of a teacher allegedly by a barangay chief.
Police Capt. Ronaldo Eslabra, public information officer of the Abra police office, said that according to the Bangued police, Alzate had not reported receiving any threats.
Philippine National Police chief General Benjamin Acorda Jr. ordered the creation of a special investigation task group to speed up the probe of the killing.
Investigators have started digging into her court cases, the Inquirer learned.
Alzate’s husband was concurrent judge of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 58 in Bucay, Abra, and RTC Branch 24 of Cabugao, Ilocos Sur when he was slapped with two administrative complaints before the Supreme Court for which he was dismissed in 2020. One of the complaints dwelt on annulment cases he handled as a concurrent RTC judge in Ilocos Sur, where his wife served as counsel for some of the litigants.
No poll links, so far
Julius Torres, Cordillera director of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), said that there was no record connecting Alzate to “any candidate or Abra clients with a stake in the [barangay and sangguniang kabataan] elections.”
Torres said the Comelec would wait for a thorough police investigation “because people wrongly assume that every crime committed during the election period counts as poll violence when the motives are completely different.”
Abra used to be notorious for political violence during elections. A 2005 Inquirer expose revealed that political families have been fighting with private armed groups, including policemen and soldiers moonlighting as hired guns, which a government fact-finding had confirmed.
By the NUPL’s count, three lawyers have already been killed under President Marcos.
It said that of November 2022, 133 lawyers have been killed since 1986, 59 during the Duterte administration. Other groups say more than 60 lawyers, prosecutors and judges have been killed under Duterte.