NUPL wins int’l fair trial award

By Nuel M. Bacarra

A group of local human rights lawyers received an international award for contributions to the campaign for the right to a fair trial given by colleagues representing 100 legal organizations across the world.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) was awarded the Ebru Timtik Award in a ceremony that served as the culminating activity of the International Fair Trial Day Conference held at the University of the Philippines College of Law last Friday, June 14.

The award is named after Ebru Timtik, a Kurdish-Turkish human rights lawyer who died after a hunger strike demanding fair trial. She was among 18 lawyers known for representing activists arrested by Turkiye’s government in September 2017.

The award was given by representatives of the International Fair Trial Day Steering Group that also concluded Caravana Filipina, an investigative activity on reports of attacks and threats against lawyers in the Philippines, on Friday.

The group interviewed lawyers and their families in their visits to Iloilo, Cebu, Baguio and Metro Manila from June 4 to 13 that included victims from Mindanao as well as representatives of the Supreme Court, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Commission on Human Rights.

Caravana Filipina delegation was composed of 12 legal professionals from Belgium, France, Great Britain, Greece, Spain, The Netherlands, Turkey, and the US.

In a press conference last Thursday, Caravana Filipina said its preliminary findings affirm reports that the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government has doubled number of recorded attacks and threats on lawyers and other legal professionals compared to the previous Rodrigo Duterte regime.

Caravana Filipina said there have been 43 attacks on lawyers, including seven killings from July 01, 2022 to December 2023. Twenty-three of the victims are NUPL lawyers.

“Human rights and public interest lawyers, even judges, experienced vilification accusing them as ‘communist terrorists,’ the group said.

The group cited the killing of Davao City Public Prosecutor Eleanor dela Peña, 54, who was killed last June 10. Dela  Peña is the fourth lawyer killed under the Marcos Jr. regime.

“The attacks on lawyers and the long history of impunity deter people from coming forward as witnesses,” the international lawyer said, adding the climate of fear also often leads families to hesitate or refrain from filing complaints.

“This situation delays the pursuit of justice of having perpetrators answer for their crimes,” the international lawyers said.

Caravana Filipina members in a press conference in Manila last June 13. (N. Bacarra/Kodao)

Caravana Filipina member Judge Delissa Rigway, a senior judge on the US Court of International Trade and a member of New York City Bar association and American Bar Association, said: “Philippines expresses interest in becoming a member of the UN Security Council…it will be important for the government to demonstrate its compliance with international standards, especially international standard on human rights.”

Caravana said the Philippine government should recognize the importance of dissociating the lawyers with their clients’ causes.

“In vicious smear campaigns on social media and public spaces, lawyers are often labeled as ‘communist rebels’ or ‘terrorists’ merely for fulfilling their legitimate professional duties and defending the oppressed, the poor, and the disadvantaged,” it said.

The group also expressed concern about the safety and security and independence of the press it said is compromised when journalists such as Frenchie Mae Cumpio are charged with fabricated cases.

Caravana Filipina welcomed Supreme Court’s decision against red-tagging but criticized the local governments and courts for their inaction and for the poor measures of preventive and protective response.

“International law recognizes the unique role of the legal professionals play in any society. As guardians of justice for all, international law accords them special protections,” the group said.

“Lawyers must be protected by the state in exercising their duty to defend their clients,” it added. #