Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 34      Oct.1 - 7, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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Attacks on Lawyers are Attacks on the Legal Profession and on Human Rights*

It should not be difficult to see that any attack on any lawyer should have an impact on other lawyers in other countries. After all, we all believe in the rule of law; in effective and independent legal representation; in due process; in freedom, democracy and justice. Noble words that can be achieved if those tasked to uphold them are free from any attack on their lives, liberty and property.

Posted by Bulatlat

Imagine yourself as a lawyer who has been practising for more than 30 years but now could not go to a court hearing without having to mind that you could get shot on your way to court.

Imagine yourself as a lawyer who just stepped out of a meeting with clients to buy milk for your little daughter but would not make it to her because you would be shot while riding a public vehicle in a busy street.

Or as a lawyer who cannot go to office or go home to your wife and kids because strange men in motorcycles have been asking your whereabouts.

And imagine yourself as a lawyer labelled by the military as an “enemy of the state”; or that you get SMS messages that you should not go to court to prosecute a case; or that you stop your work or else you will suffer the same fate as others; or that you are blocked at a  checkpoint on your way to court; or that your car would be burned by unidentified men; or that you have to change your mobile number several times because they are tapped. 

Here in Holland – except perhaps for the fact that it is not difficult to imagine yourselves as lawyers as I have it on good information that everyone here is a lawyer or attorney – these things may be unimaginable.

But back in my country, these attacks on lawyers do happen and are not part of our imagination.

With privilege and honour, I come here upon your invitation to testify on what is going on in a far away place half across the globe.

Attacks on lawyers and judges

Ms. Juvy Magsino, counsel for progressive groups and local official vocal against military abuses and mining projects affecting the people. Riddled with bullets while driving.

Ms. Arbet Yongco, lawyer prosecuting a parricide case against a cult leader belonging to a powerful family. Shot inside her house.

Mr. Felidito Dacut, counsel for unions and people’s organizations. Shot while inside a passenger jeepney on his way to buy milk for his three-year old daughter.

Mr. Charles Juloya, lawyer for unions and political prisoners. Shot several times in front of his law office. Survived but is still under threat.

Mr. Romeo Capulong, United Nations (UN) ad litem judge and foremost human rights lawyer in the Philippines. Subjected to four separate attempts on his life.

Mr. Henrick Gingoyon, judge handling a controversial case against the government over an anomalous airport project and formerly counsel for people’s organizations. Gunned down on New Year’s eve on his way home.

Mr. Jobert Pahilga, young lawyer for peasant organizations and the progressive opposition. Subjected to intense surveillance and death threats.

There have been 17 lawyers and 10 judges killed since 2001 for reasons related to their profession. These attacks continue to this day and are but a small part of the 755 civilians extrajudicially killed, 359 others who survived, and 184 still missing.

Why do these lawyers get attacked?

The reasons for the attacks on activists, human rights workers, indigenous people, farmers, workers, journalists, and church leaders by forces linked with the government may be fully explained in another occasion.

But for the legal profession in the Philippines, most of the victims are those that give their legal services to critics of the government or those who work for reforms. They are the most effective, vocal and dedicated lawyers who defend the rights of the poor and the oppressed as part of their duty. A good number are also advocates for genuine reforms.

These attacks are not new. There has been a long history since Martial Law of Marcos. It is a denial of the right to effective and independent legal counsel. Today, these attacks have reached a new height and impunity.

Responses of the legal community

Believing that everyone is entitled to legal representation and that the cause of the client should not be imputed to counsel, various responses to these attacks have arisen, both local and international.

We ourselves formed the Committee for the Defense of Lawyers or CODAL, now called the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties.

Response of the Dutch legal community

We were linked by a member of your host Haarlem Bar Association to a foundation called Stichting Advocaten voor Advocaten. It supports lawyers under attack especially those involved in human rights so that they can exercise their profession without interference.

The Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation (in cooperation with the Dutch Lawyers without Borders: Advocaten Zonder Grenzen and the IADL) went on a fact-finding mission to the Philippines to investigate the reports on these attacks.

The mission confirmed a pattern in the harassment and killings of human rights lawyers and understood these in relation with the other killings and attacks in the Philippines.

Indeed, the attacks undermine the rule of law and erode faith in the courts and the independence of judges and lawyers.

The mission report called “From Facts to Action” was received very well in the Philippines, here and abroad. Of course, the Philippine government, especially the police and the military have reacted strongly and called the members of the mission fake lawyers.

New incidents happened since then: another serious assassination attempt on a respected senior lawyer, the threats on two women people’s lawyers, and the labelling of key members of CODAL.

As advocates, we face these threats and hardships while we perform our duties to our clients, to the profession, to the courts, and to society.

But we shall overcome and we carry on.

Relevance of these attacks to the Dutch bar

It should not be difficult to see that any attack on any lawyer should have an impact on other lawyers in other countries. After all, we all believe in the rule of law; in effective and independent legal representation; in due process; in freedom, democracy and justice. Noble words that can be achieved if those tasked to uphold them are free from any attack on their lives, liberty and property.

The attacks on our fellow lawyers mean the attack to the independence of our profession. This independence is what we are taught, trained and practice. Though not as dangerous to life and limb like in my country, the same principle remains here.

Indeed, an attack on any lawyer in the exercise of his profession is an attack on me, on you and the legal profession.

It is important that the worthy initiatives done by your colleagues here will be supported in useful ways; that further action be taken; and that you will stand with us to stop these attacks on the profession, on human rights and to life itself.

I give you the warmest solidarity greetings from my colleagues who continue to carry on despite these challenges, the relatives of the victims who find comfort in the concern shown by your colleagues, and my people who continue to struggle for democracy and justice.

Congratulations to your Congress, best wishes to all of you and we hope there is “music” in advocacy not only in the Netherlands but also in the Philippines and elsewhere. Posted by Bulatlat

* Presented before the Annual Congress of the Dutch Bar Association Haarlem, The Netherlands; 29 September 2006

Edre U. Olalia is International Officer of the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) 



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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