Suspected AFP and PNP agents harass human rights lawyer

A lawyers’ group condemned the harassment of one of its members by suspected Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel in Caloocan City yesterday.

In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said Atty. V.J. Topacio was tailgated by a white Toyota Revo vehicle and a motorcycle from a hearing at the Caloocan City Prosecutor’s Office where he represented Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Metro Manila campaign officer Ferdinand Castillo.

Topacio reportedly managed to shake off his pursuers 10 minutes after noticing he was being tailed.

The NUPL said that during the hearing, Topacio questioned the propriety of the appearance of a certain Bryan De Guzman Bantilan, who introduced himself as a lawyer representing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“It is obvious the incident was meant to intimidate Atty. Topacio and discourage him from representing so-called harassment victims by state agents like Castillo,” the NUPL said.

“This is not the first time that Atty. Topacio was subjected to such form of harassment. In a similar instance he was also followed by suspected state agents a few days after he represented Andrea Rosal, the daughter of former spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines,” it added.

The NUPL called on the Duterte government and the military and police establishments to respect the role of lawyers and to stop the attack against them.

Earlier, human rights group Karapatan issued an alert on the incident and called on the AFP and PNP to stop its alleged attacks against human rights defenders.

“Through the State’s counter insurgency programs such as Oplan Kapayapaan and all-out war against the people, peasants, workers, national minorities, human and people’s rights advocates have become fair targets of harassment and worse violations,” Karapatan said.

“We stand with Topacio and peoples’ lawyers in their staunch defense of peoples’ rights,” the group added. (Raymund B. Villanueva)