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Peoples’ lawyers vow to continue defending human rights ‘alongside the poor and oppressed’

Public interest lawyers vowed to persevere in defending human rights as the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) holds its two-day national congress starting today in Manila.

Themed “Conquering Challenges in People’s Lawyering: Unifying Our Ranks to Strengthen the Protection and Advancement of Human Rights in the Face of Adversity,” the country’s top human rights lawyers said they are not fazed with the threats they face, even if some of their colleagues have paid for their advocacy with their very lives.

“We will win this battle against impunity because we are on the side of truth and the people,” NUPL chairperson Neri Colmenares said in his speech.

“In the line of fire is always a place of honor,” Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, quoting the late activist Lean Alejandro, told NUPL 5th Congress delegates in encouraging them against harassment.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in his keynote speech praised the NUPL as the country’s most passionate human rights defenders even in the face of harassments and being in the line of fire.

“You do not only define public interest lawyering, you live it,” Leonen said.

Leonen added it is time the country recognizes the NUPL’s brand of lawyering and its passion for justice.

Established in 2007, the NUPL has grown from 89 to around 500 members spread across more than 50 chapters nationwide, taking on the most celebrated human rights cases in more than decade.

Lawyers for the oppressed

In his opening remarks, NUPL president Edre Olalia said the NUPL remains committed to peoples’ lawyering “for the demands and aspirations of the Filipino people, especially the poor and the oppressed.”

“We are the lawyers of the exploited, persecuted and marginalized. We are in the legal forefront in the fight against impunity. We are the ones on the ground as we fight in the legal trenches and foxholes,” he added.

Olalia called on his colleagues to close ranks and fight back against “vicious attacks, weaponization of the law by a blitzkreig of legal attacks.”

The guests in the event’s opening ceremonies include Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan, mothers of University of the Philippines students Karen and Sherlyn abducted by retired Philippine Army Major General Jovito Palparan.

Also present were Raymond Manalo, Celia Veloso and mothers of victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s  drug war.

In her speech, Veloso said their family could not contain their joy when the NUPL successfully convinced the Supreme Court to allow Mary Jane’s diposition, giving them hope the overseas Filipino worker may still be saved from execution in Indonesia.

Other guests included former Senator Rene Saguisag, Ateneo Law School dean Antonio Laviña and Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Egon Cayosa.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno gave the welcome remarks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)