In a letter dated March 15, the University of the Philippines College of Law (UP Law) urged the Supreme Court to look into the “deeply disturbing action” of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The PNP has been asking trial courts, and even individual lawyers and court officials, for a list of lawyers who are “representing Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) personalities.”
“Never in the history of our country has there ever been such an open and flagrant attempt to cow the legal community into shirking their sworn duties as lawyers and officers of the court through an act of discrimination and inquisition clearly targeting lawyers for representing a particular category of accused clients,” the letter stated. (Read: Meet 4 Celebrities Who Advocate for Civil Rights)
The letter, signed by 157 UP Law professors and 736 other law school professors and lawyers, is also in response to the multiple crimes and assaults committed against lawyers in the recent weeks.
61 Lawyers Killed
In the past years, there has been an alarming number of crimes committed against lawyers and those practicing in the legal profession under the Duterte administration. According to data from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), and Rappler, and separate lists obtained from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Supreme Court (SC), 61 lawyers have been killed in the country in just five years of the current administration.
Half of the 61 were killed due to work-related reasons, and more than a dozen were drug-related, according to FLAG. (Read: 3 Human Rights Issues That Made Headlines in December)
“The fact that almost half of the killings were due to work-related or possibly work-related motives is an indicator of the growing danger of practicing the legal profession in the country,” the group said.
This is a stark contrast to the 49 lawyers killed in the last 44 years from the Marcos administration up to Noynoy Aquino’s presidency. The most lawyers killed in the past were 22 under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the fewest was at 0 during Fidel Ramos’s term.
Attacks Against Rights Defenders
The most recent attack on a lawyer was on March 3, when two motorcycle-riding men stabbed Atty. Angelo Karlo “AK” Guillen in Iloilo City using a screwdriver. The lawyer is one of the many petitioners against the controversial Anti-Terror Law, and is the vice president of NUPL Visayas. Before him, dozens of others who were also defending the marginalized and underrepresented have been attacked as well, and even killed.
On December 17, 2020, lawyer Baby Maria Concepcion Landero-Ole was shot by unidentified assailants in Danao City, Cebu. The incident happened six months after her husband was also killed after being released from the New Bilibid Prison. (Read: Church Demands Justice for IP Killings in Panay Island)
Just three weeks before her death, another Cebu City lawyer, Atty. Joey Luis Wee, was shot dead outside his office. Atty. Wee was a defense lawyer in the case of the overpriced street lamps used during the 2007 ASEAN Summit, wherein some officials were found guilty of graft and corruption.
And in 2018, 56-year-old lawyer Benjamin Ramos was gunned down in Negros Occidental by motorcycle-riding gunmen while he was taking a break from assisting a client. He was also representing the victims of the Sagay Massacre in Negros.