By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — A broad alliance of lawyers and law students was formally launched today, Nov. 2, to conduct advocacy campaigns and provide legal services to families of victims of extrajudicial killings. Coming from different backgrounds, it serves as a non-partisan alliance united by one advocacy: human rights.
Called Mga Manananggol Laban sa Extrajudicial Killings (Lawyers against Extrajudicial Killings) or MANLABAN sa EJK, for short. The shorter name, which translates in English to “fight back against EJK,” takes reference to police claims that slain drug suspects “fought back” or nanlaban.
In attendance at the press conference in Quezon City were lawyers from diverse groups: human rights lawyer Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL); Julia Herrera-Lim, president of the University of the Philippines College of Law Student Government (UP LSG); Professor Roel Pulido of the Arellano University School of Law; Dean Pacifico Agabin of the UP College of Law; Antonio Gabriel “Tony” La Viña, a lecturer of various law schools and former dean of the Ateneo School of Government; Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III, former representative of the 4th district of Quezon province, member of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the Liberal Party; Minerva “June” Ambrosio, head of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) National Center for Legal Aid; and Rafael Romualdo Ricalde, president of the Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP).
“Members of the legal profession and law students who value the sanctity of human rights and the equitable rule of law, cannot stand idly by in the midst of these attacks on the right to life, liberty, dignity, and security of the people. Today we join the ever-growing voices of protest against rampant killings which target the poor, to defend rights, and demand accountability,” MANLABAN sa EJK said in a statement.
Point of unity
“We are here because we want to unite, and we want to cooperate, and we want to coordinate our independent moves into one,” Olalia said during the press conference.
With an estimated 13,000 victims of extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s War on Drugs, various human rights and lawyers groups have already filed cases against the police and the Duterte administration’s programs.
Lawyers and human rights advocates are also targeted. On Oct. 25, paralegal Edwin Pura was shot dead in Paradijon village, Gubat, Sorsogon.
Dissenters are threatened with suit or persecution, termination from a government position, or even death.
“It is not only about extrajudicial killings. It even went to creative forms — ranging from door-to-door surveys to instant drug testing, to searches in public places like restaurants to the notorious drop boxes,” Olalia added.
The NUPL has successfully petitioned for a halt to the door-to-door, random drug tests by police in Payatas, Quezon City. NUPL also contested the validity of putting up drop boxes in communities so people can anonymously identify and complain about suspected drug users.
FLAG, meanwhile, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court to declare drug war circulars as unconstitutional. The IBP is also starting to form a coalition of lawyers against EJKs.
“The duty of lawyers is not to apologize, is not to deodorize, not to rationalize human rights violations. It is the duty of lawyers to consistently, uncompromisingly defend and uphold human rights no matter what temporary and fleeting circumstances,” Olalia said.
Activities of MANLABAN sa EJK will range from issuing unity statements, to holding discussions and mobilizations. La Viña said the unique contribution of the alliance will be its members’ legal expertise. As lawyers who are part of the alliance, they will make sure that the fight against extrajudicial killings and their human rights advocacy will be in the forefront of their work.
Herrera-Lim said law students have also been exerting effort to respond to human rights violations through free legal aid clinics, holding discussions in their respective schools, and educating their members about the basic human rights situation in the Philippines.
At the start of his term, and as early as during his campaign for presidency, Duterte has promised bloodshed, addressing criminals and drug suspects with “I will kill you, idiots.” Despite public clamor for the end to the killings, Duterte and police officials have denied that EJKs were committed. The daily death toll of suspected drug users and innocent victims continued amid the President’s speeches which induced, encouraged, and even condoned state agents.
Instead of castigating erring officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Duterte even said he will “protect” police men who kill suspects who “fight back.” Encouragement also came in the form of promotions and recognitions.
A prominent case was that of Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos and 18 of his men who shot dead detained Albuera mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. and his fellow inmate Raul Yap inside a jail in November last year. The police men claimed they were serving a warrant at 5 A.M. to Espinosa, while in detention. Marcos and his men were initially charged with two counts of murder, but these were downgraded to homicide. In July, the police men posted bail, and were also reported as vying for promotions.
“Moral and political responsibility leads all the way to the Palace,” Olalia said.
Dean Agabin stressed out the concept of command responsibility, a principle of hierarchical responsibility. Thus, the commander-in-chief, the President of the Philippines, can be held responsible for any order he may have given to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or PNP.
Former lawmaker Tañada, whose political party has been branded by the President as a “destabilizer,” said the issue of human rights is not an issue of destabilization, but a concern of every democratic country. The Duterte administration’s deficiency in ensuring the accountability of its officers reflects its determination to protect its own wrongdoings.
MANLABAN sa EJK calls on the legal community to join strengthen their advocacy for human rights. Law students were particularly invited to volunteer as paralegals and, eventually, carry on the fight for justice.
The alliance is set to launch a Facebook page where families of victims of EJKs and other rights abuses will be able to express their sentiments and ask for legal assistance. Complainants can also approach the lawyer members of MANLABAN to ask for legal assistance.
Other lawyer-conveners of MANLABAN sa EJK are: Professor Victoria “Vickie” Avenua, lecture of Civil Procedure and Evidence in the UP College of Law; Roberto Eugenio Cadiz, commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR); Neri Colmenares, former Bayan Muna Party-list representative and himself a victim of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship; Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, founding dean of the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law; Ernest Maceda, Jr., former dean of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) College of Law; Rachel Pastores, president of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC); former Senator Rene Saguisag, founder of the San Beda Free Legal Aid Clinic; human rights Evalyn Ursua, who became known as the counsel of the victim in the Subic rape case against an American marine; and Cleto Villacorta III, judge in the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City.