Lawyers hail conviction of 4 tokhang police in 2016 homicide

Human rights lawyers welcomed as “a soothing balm” the conviction of several police officers in the killings of father and son Luis and Gabriel Lois Bonifacio under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called anti-drug war.

But the National Capital Region chapter of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL-NCR), private prosecutors to the case, immediately clarified that the guilty verdict was not the product of government’s efforts towards justice but the courage of the victim’s families and organizations.

The Caloocan City Regional Trial Court Branch 121 on Tuesday, June 18, convicted Master Sgt. Virgilio Cervantes and Police Corporals Arnel De Guzman, Johnston Alacre and Argemio Saguros, Jr. guilty of homicide for the twin deaths in 2016.

 “The firing of shots made by all the accused which caused the death of the victims without justifiable cause shows same criminal intent towards the same criminal design,” the 30-page ruling reads. 

The convicts were given prison sentences ranging from a minimum of six years to 10 years, with the possibility of parole after the sixth year.

Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla was quick to hail the verdict, claiming the Philippine criminal justice system works.

NUPL-NCR however said the development only showed that the “bloody hands of authorities” are really behind the massive killings under the Duterte regime’s Oplan Tokhang.

The victims, like the Bonifacios, are “almost purely from the ranks of the destitute,” the NUPL-NCR said.

The group added that police officers convicted, such as in the separate cases of Kian de los Santos as well as Carl Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman, cover only low-ranking police personnel out of many others who were part of the operations.

NUPL-NCR also cited immense difficulties in building a case against authorities due to “police incompetence, inaction, indolence and overall culture of impunity.”

Mary Ann Bonifacio, widow and mother of the victims, being comforted by members of the Rise Up for Life and for Rights after the promulgation last Tuesday. (RESBAK photo)

“Luis and Gabriel Lois were but two of 6252 killed in police operations. The number of those brought to court for killings barely reach a hundred,” NUPL-NCR said in the statement.

The group said there are thousands more who cannot identify whose hands pulled the triggers in the vigilante-style killings.

“And yet, while we already know who made the blueprint for widespread and systemic murders…[t]hey are the ones who remain beyond the reach of [local] investigation or prosecution,” the group added.

NUPL members are among the human rights lawyers who assist families of victims who filed complaints against Duterte and others at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands and in many local courts.

Former senator Antonio Trillanes III has repeatedly said a warrant of arrest by the ICC is forthcoming against Duterte and others, such as the former president’s first police chief, now senator, Ronald de la Rosa.

“[This] triumph is a comfort to the family of Luis and Gabriel Lois and a sigh of relief for us, the private prosecutors, our clients in Rise Up for Life and for Rights, and others who supported this quest for justice,” NUPL-NCR said of the guilty verdict.

“However, in terms of scale, [Tuesday’s] legal victory is just a footnote in a bloody chapter that has yet to end as bodies continue to pile up until today,” the group added.

NUPL-NCR urged the prosecution of all responsible for the drug-related killings it said persists even under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Drug war widow brings husband’s case to UN

A widow of a victim of the government’s so-called war on drugs called for a stronger United Nations (UN) effort in investigating the killings in the Philippines.

Amy Jane Lee, whose husband Michael was among the thousands killed, said the bloody campaign started by the Rodrigo Duterte government is continuing under the current Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration.

“The killings continue. If the ‘war on drugs’ was effective, the proliferation of illegal drugs would no longer be an issue. If the domestic investigation processes were efficient, I wouldn’t be here asking for help again,” Lee said.

A member of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, Lee is in Geneva, Switzerland as the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) publicized its report on human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem.

Rise Up is among the groups that submitted complaints to the OHCHR and was cited in the report, particularly about human rights violations “resulting from the militarization of anti-drug operations that disproportionately impact the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society.” 

The UN OHCHR report also stated that: “In most cases, accountability for human rights violations and access to effective remedies for victims and communities remains lacking.”

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) is conducting its 54th session attended by a delegation of the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch from human rights, lawyers, indigenous peoples, church, and environment groups from the Philippines.

The HRC is currently conducting a UN Joint Program in the Philippines that includes dialogues and trainings with government agencies in upholding and protecting human rights.

The program however had been receiving criticisms from local human rights groups for being “insubstantial in bringing about changes in the country’s drug policies, with the killings continuing under the Marcos administration unchecked and un-prosecuted.” 

“The heat is on the Philippines, with UN special rapporteurs noting concern over recent developments in the Philippines, on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating the extrajudicial killings committed during the Duterte administration’s drug war,” said Atty. Kristina Conti, secretary-general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)-National Capital Region.

The NUPL represents victims of the “war on drugs” in proceedings before the ICC.

Lee and Philippine UPR Watch called on missions of state members of the ICC to support the investigation being conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor.

Conti emphasized the continuing obligation of the Philippine government to cooperate with the court.

“It is logically inconsistent for the Philippines to cooperate with the UN but not the ICC,” she said. 

Philippine UPR Watch also reiterated its call for the UN through the OHCHR to continue their monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in the Philippines, with the killing of a lawyer in Abra province  and the abduction and arbitrary detention of two environmental activists in Bataan. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUPL asks Teodoro to uphold duties of lawyers

‘Anti-terror charges vs rights defenders alarming’

Human rights lawyers asked national defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro, himself an attorney, to uphold their duties as counsels to their clients.

In a hand-delivered letter in front of Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City Friday, July 7, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) urged Teodoro to respect the United Nations Basic Principles of on the Role of Lawyers in the context of protecting the human rights of their clients as well as promoting justice.

The five-page letter is accompanied by a separate letter by Nieves Lizada, mother of human rights defender Mary Joyce who is detained at the Philippine Army’s (PA) Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.

The letters were handed out to a representative of the Office of the National Defense Secretary.

The event was accompanied by a protest action by human rights workers from Southern Tagalog and Metro Manila.

Southern Tagalog human rights defenders demand the freedom of two of their colleagues. (NUPL photo)

‘No rule of law’

The NUPL cited the case of Mary Joyce and Arnuldo Aumentado who are being denied access to their lawyers; the case of sugar farm workers Alfred Manalo, Lloyd Descalar and Angelito Balitostos who were abducted by government soldiers; and Southern Tagalog (ST) youth rights defenders Kenneth Rementilla, Jasmin Yvette Rubia, and Halley Pecayo who were harassed and red-tagged by the PA.

Called the Mansalay 2, Mary Joyce and Aumentado were investigating the shelling of a Mangyan community in Oriental Mindoro province when arrested by the PA last April 25.

Despite two previous consultations with their lawyers on June 3 and June 28 in Camp Capinpin, the two have since been denied time with their counsels and have yet to be taken to a civilian jail even after indictment from a regional trial court.

In their letter, the NUPL also complained of the harassment of their members from the Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA) who responded to requests for assistance for sugar farm workers Manalo, Descalar and Balitostos, also called the Balayan 3.

A certain Lt.Col. Ernesto Teneza filed a complaint against the SENTRA lawyers at the Commission on Human Rights IV-A office despite being responsible for blocking the lawyers’ access to the farm workers.

The NUPL also said the ST youth rights defenders were harassed on two special occasions in the PA’s efforts to prevent them from investigating the killing of 9-year old Kyllene Casao by soldiers of the PA’s 59th Infantry Battalion.

‘As alter ego of the Commander in chief’

In their letter, the NUPL called on Teodoro to exercise his supervision over the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as well as the following demands:

  1. Those arrested, detained and imprisoned are provided opportunities to consult with a lawyer without delay, interception or censorship and in full confidentiality;
  2. Lawyers are allowed to travel and consult with their clients freely and without threats and prosecution;
  3. The military should refrain from filing trumped-up charges of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses against human rights defenders; and
  4. Officers and commanders of the 2nd Infantry Division and the 4th and 59th IBs be investigated for possible liabilities in the incidents mentioned.

“We hope that you will take these calls as a challenged to balance your tasks of guarding the country against security threats with the imperative of fulfilling the Philippine government’s obligations to respect human rights and international humanitarian law,” the NUPL wrote.

The lawyers’ group said 13 Anti-Terrorism Law charges have been filed against rights defenders and other civilians throughout the region.

In her own letter, Lizada asked Teodoro to immediately free Mary Joyce or be transferred without delay to a civilian jail.

There was no immediate response to the letters from Teodoro’s office. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUPL to gov’t: Do your job, keep it fair and square

Human rights lawyers said it is the government that should investigate allegations of war crimes in connection with the reported death of top Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.

Reacting to a statement made by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) Legal Cooperation Cluster, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said the government is bound to gather evidence and initiate prosecution of those connected with the alleged torture and execution of the Tiamzons.

The NTF ELCAC earlier said that those who made the allegations, including the NUPL bear the burden of proof, adding that the lawyers’ group and human rights group Karapatan are affiliated with the CPP.

The task force added the mere fact that both the NUPL and Karapatan are demanding an investigation are “a clear proof that they are lying and can’t prove their perverted claim.”

The NUPL however reminded the government that it is the State’s duty to conduct investigations on complaints of rights violations.

“These types of comments are non-sequitur (illogical) and unduly place the burden on human rights lawyers and defenders to conduct a probe,” the NUPL said.

The lawyers added that it was the military that first reported the supposed waterborne firefight that may have killed the Tiamzons and eight others in August 2022, but later took down their social media posts on the matter.

Keep it professional

When citizens complain of rights violations, the government should welcome it as part of its commitment to uphold international humanitarian law, the NUPL said.

Instead, government lawyers—colleagues in the legal professions and co-officers of the court, are choosing to resort to “hateful and gratuitous name-calling” by labeling human rights attorneys as “CTG (communist terrorist group)-affiliated or CPP, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front of the Philippines front without competed, credible and admissible evidence,” they said.

The NUPL was reacting to Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Miranda, a member of NTF ELCAC’s Legal Cooperation Cluster, who alleged that both NUPL and Karapatan are fronting for Communist groups.

The NUPL said such practice endangers their lives and prevents them from independently performing their duties as lawyers.

“Especially since we in NUPL are compelled to handle cases that most of our colleagues in the profession cannot, would not, or do not – for reasons we respect – handle,” the group said.

“While we may differ in views, opinions and positions – just like we do in court – we should all endeavor to keep our professional dealings civil and fair, use only dignified language, avoid low blows, and refrain from promoting an unsafe environment in any setting, as we are mandated to do as lawyers under the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability and out of basic respect for our fellow human beings,” the NUPL asked.

“We expect nothing less from our fellow lawyers. Let us keep it fair and square, if you please,” NUPL added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups ask Court to reduce Tondo 3 bail amount

P1.41 million ‘excessive’, ‘humongous’

Lawyers and human rights groups asked the court to reduce the bail amount for three Tondo activists arrested in November 2019 to allow them to spend Christmas with their respective families.

In a joint motion, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) asked Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 47 Judge Paulino Gallegos to reduce the amount by half for each of them: From ₱420,000 imposed on Reina Mae Nasino and Alma Moran to ₱210,000 each, and from ₱570,000 to ₱285,000 for Ram Carlo Bautista.

The joint motion notes that it is “within the sound discretion” of the Judge to adjust the bail amount it originally set as the 2018 New Bail Bond Guide of the National Prosecution Service are merely recommendatory to assist the courts.

The motion added the three are full-time human rights workers, “earning only what was necessary for daily sustenance,” and they come from low-income, working-class families.

“Nakakalula. Hindi namin po kakayanin yon,” appealed Nasino’s mother, Marites Asis, who accompanied the filing of the petition on Wednesday, December 14.

Judge Gallegos ordered the provisional release of the three activists last Monday, December 12, citing the failure of the prosecution to prove strong guilt against the three activists on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The 12th Division of the Court of Appeals earlier said that the search warrant used in their arrest failed meet the standards of a valid search warrant, rendering all evidence gathered by the police raid “inadmissible.”

Political prisoner support group Kapatid said it is ironic that the poor and innocent have to stay in jail longer because they don’t have the money to pay for their freedom.

“But the rich and powerful like Imelda Marcos get a lower amount of bail though convicted for stealing 10.5 billion pesos of public funds,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said, citing the former First Lady’s bail amount of P411,000 upon her conviction in November 2018.

Rights group Karapatan said that while it welcome’s the Court order for the temporary release of the three activists, it found the P1.4 million cumulative amount as “excessive.”

“[T]he humongous amount being demanded by the court is tantamount to depriving them of the liberty they deserve,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“In the interest of justice, we urge the court to reduce the Tondo 3’s bail considerably and allow them to spend Christmas with their families,” Palabay added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Court dismisses ‘traveling skeleton’ cases against Leftists, civilians anew

A Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed charges against dozens of Leftists and civilians and ordered the release of the detained in the case involving the so-called “traveling skeletons” of Inopacan, Leyte.

In an order dated December 16, Manila RTC Branch 32 granted the demurrer separately filed by farmers Norberto Murillo, Dario Tomada and Oscar Belleza, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) announced.

Manila RTC Branch 32 presiding judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the first element of murder, that is, the alleged 15 victims were actually killed and that the accused were actually involved in the alleged crime, the NUPL said.

“[The government]…failed to scientifically prove that the subject skeletal remains exhumed in Mt. Sapang Dako, Barangay Kaulisihan, Inopacan, Leyte on August 26-29, 2006 belong to the latter and [that]…the accounts of its eye-witnesses as regards how they were killed, who killed them and other surrounding circumstances behind their deaths are palpably unreliable,” it added.

The court reportedly noted the numerous infirmities in the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses who claimed to be former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and rebel returnees.

 [T]he Decision found “overwhelming contrarieties and infirmities in the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses,” the decision reportedly ruled.

The court also dismissed the cases of others “against whom the prosecution had already terminated the presentation of its evidence but who had not filed their Demurrer to Evidence,” including prominent Leftist leaders and peace negotiators.

‘Traveling skeletons’

In 2006, the government’s Inter-Agency Legal Action Group again filed multiple murder charges against 38 civilians as well as prominent Leftists, including National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison who was under maximum security detention of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship at the time of the alleged crime.

An earlier 2000 case was filed on the allegation that the 67 skeletal remains were of victims of a purge of NPA members carried out by the accused.

Human rights group Karapatan however pointed out in 2019 that the skeletons of three of the alleged victims in the 2000 case as well as other witnesses were “recycled” in the later Hilongos, Leyte trials.

Karapatan said the 2006 charges were simply a “remake of the story portrayed by the prosecution in Criminal Case No. 2001-6-51 before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), 8th Judicial Region, Baybay, Leyte which was dismissed by the said court.”

Sison in turn accused then Philippine Army commanding general, now national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., of collecting the bones from various cemeteries for his “legal offensive” against those opposing then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Other defendants questioned the articles of clothing presented during the hearings which still displayed vivid markings and colors.

“Those who have been to the mountains would know that clothes buried in the rainforest for more than 20 years would not appear like that. It should have completely decomposed by now,” accused Benito Tiamzon, NDFP negotiating panel member, told Bulatlat during a 2016 hearing.

Public Interest Law Center and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers defense counsels with some of the accused and their supporters. (Photo from Atty. Kristina Conti/PILC-NUPL)

‘Christmas gift for peace consultants’

The Public Interest Law Center, co-defense counsels, said the Court’s decision is an early Christmas gift for the defendants.

“[We]…counsel for [co-accused] Saturnino Ocampo, Adelberto Silva, Rafael Baylosis, and the late Randall Echanis, (are) heartened by the ruling, which is tantamount to an acquittal, in one of the most controversial cases initiated by the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group. The Court’s painstaking consideration is patent in a 97-page dissection of the prosecution’s evidence. In all, the Decision found “overwhelming contrarieties and infirmities in the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses,” the PILC said.

“We are delighted that the Court has well-taken our consistent position that these cases are trumped-up, arguably part of an elaborate ploy to vilify our clients. These cases impleaded many consultants in the peace talks who had gone public – and these charges were but part of persecution by the government,” the lawyers said.

Accused Ocampo, Silva, Baylosis and Echanis, as well as Vicente Ladlad and Wilma Austria are NDFP peace consultants who actively attended formal peace negotiations with the Manila government.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) hailed the decision, saying it is a hard-earned victory for Murillo, Belleza and Tomada, the last a leader of its Eastern Visayas chapter Sagupa at the time of their arrest in 2010.

“It (the decision) inspires hope for farmers nationwide facing the criminalization of asserting land rights. KMP likewise calls for the unconditional release of all political prisoners,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rights lawyers ask ICC to continue investigating Duterte’s drug war murders

Human rights lawyers requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to continue with the conduct of a full-blown investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged drug war atrocities.

Even as the Hague-based international tribunal has agreed to defer its investigation, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said the Philippine government’s request is merely a “belated action” to whitewash the mass killings.

“These domestic ‘remedies’ described by the Philippine ambassador (to The Netherlands) in his letter have proven utterly ineffective in stopping wave after wave of drug-related killings, the imprisonment of thousands of poor Filipinos on questionable charges, and the commission of countless human rights violations during the anti-drug campaign,” the group said.

In his letter to the ICC, Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya asked the ICC to defer to Philippine domestic remedies when it comes to the investigation into crimes against humanity in connection with the drug war.

President Duterte and several other government officials are charged before the ICC of the murder of thousands of suspected drug dependents.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan reported on November 18 that his office temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the Philippine government’s deferral request.

Khan however said his office will continue its analysis of information it already has, any new information it may receive from third parties, as well as “actively assess the need for applications to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authority to conduct necessary investigative steps for the preservation of evidence.”

Saving Duterte

In opposing the Philippine government’s petition, the NUPL said the Duterte administration has failed to hold perpetrators accountable for at least six thousand of drug-related killings.

“[T]he Duterte administration is now suddenly waving the DOJ (Department of Justice) investigation into some low-ranking police personnel for a handful of killings – 52 out of tens of thousands  –  as an indicator that domestic mechanisms are working. We know better,” the NUPL said.

Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra announced on October a formal agreement is being drafted between the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for an investigation into cases of irregularities in anti-drug operations.

But the NUPL said the 52 cases the PNP itself identified “conspicuously excludes the possibility of investigating President Duterte and other high-ranking officials who are most responsible” for the killings.

The group agreed with the ICC prosecutor and the tribunal’s pre-trial chamber’s previous assessment that the crimes were the result of an established state policy.

Duterte himself has repeatedly said he takes responsibility for the killings.

The NUPL said the ICC investigations have given the families of the victims a faint glimmer of hope, which would be dashed if the international tribunal takes on the side of the Philippine government.

“We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made the Duterte administration,” the NUPL said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups urge SC to act on attacks against rights lawyers and clients

Human rights and civil society organizations petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) to take urgent action against threats, red-tagging and killings of judges and lawyers as well as their clients.

In a letter to the SC Tuesday, May 18, Karapatan, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advance of Government Employees said the attacks against court officers continue despite clear condemnation by the High Court last March 23.

Addressed to Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, the petition said the “attacks against human rights lawyers violate the basic principle that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”

The groups said that attacks against the lawyers and judges deprive them of effective access to legal services and adequate protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The letter reminded the Court that there have been 147 reported attacks against court officers in recent years.

Eighty-four or 57% of the victims are human rights lawyers affiliated with the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Public Interest Law Center, Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao and the Free Legal Assistance Group, the petition said.

In its March 23 statement, the SC acknowledged that members of the bar and the bench have been attacked and asked the lower court to submit reports on the matter.

The SC statement also came after NUPL member Angelo Karlo Guillen was stabbed with a screw driver on his lower left temple and back by two unidentified assailants in Iloilo City.

“The court condemns in the strongest sense every instance where a lawyer is threatened or killed, and where a judge is threatened and unfairly labeled. We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles, and speculate on the worth of human lives,” the SC said.

‘State sponsored’

In their submission, the signatories also asked the Court look into the attacks suffered by the lawyers’ clients “and to understand the overarching government policies that cause them.”

The signatories asserted that the lawyers who represent activists, human rights defenders and ordinary people also become targets of the government’s counterinsurgency drive.

“An urgent and decisive action from the Supreme Court is a matter of life and death for activists and human rights defenders especially now when we are being increasingly targeted in the government’s counterinsurgency and counterterror campaign for our work and causes,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, one of the signatories, said.

“Despite the Supreme Court en banc’s much-needed statement two months ago, we are concerned that the attacks have only continued, if not worsened to even more alarming forms.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lawyer, CHR score Duterte’s order vs non-mask wearers

President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to have those who do not wear masks or wear them improperly arrested undermines the rule of law and may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse by government authorities, a lawyers’ group and the Commission on Human Rights said.

Reacting to Duterte’s verbal order issued Wednesday night, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said the arrest directive is another authoritarian edict by the President.

“[T]he legal justification is not only inapplicable but erroneous because there appears to be no clearly defined crime or offense covered by any specific law or lawful ordinance for a valid instance of warrantless arrest to operate,” Olalia said.

The human rights lawyers said the order is a “cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment disproportionate to the evil sought to be supposedly addressed.”

He said its implementation may again be discriminatory as shown by the arrest, detention and death of mostly poor people arising from various coronavirus lockdown orders implemented by the government since the pandemic hit the Philippines in March 2020.

“This is what we get when we have knee-jerk draconian ideas rather than commonsensical solutions… Imagine the time, effort, resources – even brain neurons – to be spent legislating, enforcing, arresting, detaining, prosecuting and convicting for such a petty misdemeanor,” Olalia said.

He added that Duterte’s “serial mailed fist cures” would just worsen the coronavirus problem and lock the people up in the “slippery slope of inane coercive measures.”

The lawyer suggested providing facemasks for free to those who cannot afford them and launching massive popular information drives to prevent further congestion of the government’s jail facilities.

‘Detain them!’

In a meeting with pandemic task force officials Wednesday night, Duterte admitted he is at a loss on how to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.

“My orders to the police are, those who are not wearing their mask properly, in order to protect the public… to arrest them,” the President said.

“Detain them, investigate them why they’re doing it,” he said.

The chief executive said the police may detain those arrested to up to nine hours.

“If I don’t do this strictly, nothing will happen,” he said in Filipino.


The Commission on Human Rights however agreed with Olalia and said in a statement Thursday it is concerned that in the absence of clear guidelines, Duterte’s directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse.

“[W]ith the noted rise of human rights violations arising from violations of health protocols, we have stressed the need for reasonable and humane disciplinary measures for violators,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

De Guia noted that several local government units have passed ordinances penalizing those not wearing masks in public but said the measures only often reprimand, fine or order violators to perform community service.

She agreed with Olalia that the country’s overcrowded jails may not be a sound strategy to prevent the further spread of the virus in the communities.

“In the end, it is through intensive education and information campaigns, not fear, that would best result in better compliance with healthy and safety protocols during the pandemic. ..We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

PNP letter reveals ongoing profiling of lawyers

The police are going after human rights lawyers representing suspected communist sympathizers, a letter from an intelligence officer revealed.

In a letter to the clerk of court of the Calbayog City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Police Lieutenant Fernando Calabria Jr, requested for a list of lawyers representing CTG (communist terrorist groups) personalities in proceedings.

Calabria’s letter said the request is in compliance with directives from “higher PNP (Philippine National Police) offices.”

The letter, dated March 12, was printed on an officer Calbayog City Police Station letterhead.

PNP’s letter request to the Calbayog RTC.

The request also came with a table that seeks information on the lawyers’ names, affiliations, clients’ names, “modes of neutralization”, cases filed and status.

Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Hosaka said the Calbayog RTC has confirmed receipt of the request on Friday afternoon, “but no action has been made by them on the request.”

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines quickly condemned PNP’s action, saying the letter is “improper, deplorable, and alarming.”

“The letter disregards the very basic principle that lawyers are free and duty-bound to represent those accused regardless of political or ideological persuasions so that their rights are protected, due process is observed, justice is done, and that the rule of law is upheld,” the IBP through its national president and board chairman Domingo Cayosa said in a statement.

Cayosa asked government authorities to investigate the incident and exact accountability to ensure that lawyers can do their job without threats, harassment, intimidation, or retribution.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said the incident is an assault to the administration of justice.

“The letter-request shows the barefaced disregard of the PNP for human rights, particularly the right to access lawyers and legal services. It is an affront to the right and duty of lawyers to exercise their profession without fear as well as the administration of justice,” the NUPL said in a statement.

The lawyers’ group said the police have no right to profile lawyers on the basis of their clients’ personalities or ideologies.

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, lawyers must “not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions,” the group explained. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)