Mindanao lawyers ask gov’t, SC to make lawyers’ protection a priority
DAVAO CITY — A lawyers’ group in Mindanao called on the top branches of the government, including the Supreme Court, to protect lawyers against persistent attacks, following the killing of Maria Saniata Liwliwa Gonzales Alzate in Abra last Thursday, which they feared would remain unsolved just like the death of Juan Macababbad, the vice chair of Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) killed in South Cotabato two years ago.
Lawyers Antonio Azarcon and Arvin Dexter Lopoz, chair and spokesperson, respectively, of UPLM, said in a statement on Friday that the protection of the lives of lawyers who now faces persistent attacks should take precedence over the protection being sought by some public officials who did not want to be scrutinized about the allocation of public funds in their hands.
The group issued an urgent call for protection amidst the “clear and present danger” faced by lawyers, following Alzate’s murder, saying that her killing had rekindled “harrowing” memories of UPLM’s tragic loss two years ago.
“Alzate’s brutal murder bears a haunting resemblance to the unresolved killing of our [UPLM] vice chair, Juan Macababbad, gunned down in front of his home in Surallah, South Cotabato, [on Sept. 15, 2021],” said the Sept. 15 statement.
Alzate, who was president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Abra for two terms, was inside her parked car in front of her house in Santiago Street, Zone 3 of Bangued town, the capital of Abra, on Sept. 14 when gunned down by an assailant who came on foot and fled on board a motorcycle driven by another person, who also fired at her vehicle before they sped away.
Lopoz said in a phone interview on Sunday that they were getting frustrated by the low batting average of their petition for protective writs, particularly the Writ of Amparo that should have protected their colleagues under threats.
He said that even prior to Macababbad’s killing, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, in which UPLM was affiliated, had petitioned for a Writ of Amparo to protect members who were Red-tagged but their petition was denied.
Three months ago, Macababbad’s family, frustrated by the slow pace of the police investigation, had asked the assistance of UPLM, who made use of the Department of Justice circular issued by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla in April this year, mandating prosecutors to play a more active role in the case buildup stage of the investigation.
Lopoz said that UPLM decided to make use of the circular and assisted the family in the case buildup and in the filing of complaint before the Office of the Regional Prosecutor in Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and General Santos City).
“We helped the family in securing the witnesses, and in the filing of the complaint before the regional prosecutor. We have turned over the evidence and all the documents to Region 12 Prosecutor Al Calica, who received it and we are hoping that the case buildup will be gaining traction now. This was three months ago and so, we are hoping that something concrete will come up soon,” Lopoz said.
UPLM described Alzate and Macababbad as “selfless human rights defenders” who followed the “perilous path of public interest lawyering.”
“While we acknowledge and appreciate the Supreme Court’s initiatives aimed at streamlining the process for issuing protective writs, the persisting attacks on lawyers underscore an urgent imperative for more robust and coordinated action across all branches of government,” the lawyers’ statement said.
The group stressed the government has a “solemn duty to provide the protection of life that is so urgently required, more than seeking protection from scrutiny [of] the allocation and spending of public funds, a demand that some elected officials are all too eager to shield with unwarranted confidentiality.” INQ