Posts

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.

‘Abusive’

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)

Human rights lawyer survives murder attempt

A lawyer, counsel to human rights violations victims and petitioners against the Rodrigo Duterte government’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, had been stabbed in Iloilo City Wednesday night, March 3.

Atty. Angelo Karlo Guillen was stabbed with a screw driver on his lower left temple and back by two unidentified assailants at about 9:15 PM along Gen. Antonio Luna Street in the said city.

He was taken to the St. Paul Hospital and is reportedly in stable condition.

An assistant vice president for Visayas of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and secretary general of its local chapter, Guillen serves as counsel in various public interest and human rights cases in both Panay and Negros islands.

The lawyer represents red-tagged activists and human rights defenders, including those arrested in the simultaneous raids in Bacolod City in October 2019 and the Tumandok arrested in Panay last December that also saw the killing of nine tribes people in two villages.

On May 1, 2020, Guillen was arrested when he tried to intervene in the mass arrest of 42 activists protesting the murder of Bayan Muna Iloilo coordinator Jory Porquia.

The assailants wore masks and caps, reports said.

Not a robbery

Groups and individuals said the assailants took pains to make it appear the attack was a common crime, a scenario the local police reportedly quickly supported.

“The attack against (the victim) was conveniently dismissed by the local PNP as robbery-hold up. Four hours after the incident there is still no hot-pursuit operation. There were no check points. Not even police visibility in the crime scene,” Lean Porquia, son of murdered Bayan Muna Iloilo City coordinator Jory, said.

Atty. Jose Edmund Guillen, Public Attorney’s Office Region VI chief and uncle to the victim also dismissed the police’s robbery theory.  

“You want to make it appear as a robbery? The CCTV footage says otherwise. It was a kill operation. Right on the dot, after the stabbing, two motorcycles arrived to pick up the masked killers and they disappear[ed] in the dark,” he said.

 “[W]e cannot be fooled by this, because we know for a fact that the state and its security forces have been targeting Atty. Guillen as well as other lawyers handling cases of activists not only in Panay island but in Negros island as well,” human rights group Karapatan Negros Oriental said in a statement.

State terror in Panay

Porquia said the lawyer’s laptop was taken that contained all the files of the cases he is handling, including his father’s murder, the Tumandok massacre, the anti terror law petition, the mass arrest of 42 activists, the Sagay 9 massacre, and several writ of Amparo cases.

“The attack on Atty. Guillen should be seen in the context of systematic, continuing, and increasing attacks on human rights and human rights defenders. Atty. Guillen has been redtagged for several times just like other peoples’ lawyers and human rights defenders who were tagged as ‘terrorists’ or ‘communists’ and were subsequently attacked and harassed,” the NUPL Panay Law Students group said.

Last February 28, a possible witness to the victim’s Tumandok 9 case was also killed .

Village chief Julie Catamin of Brgy. Roosevelt, Tapaz, Capiz was shot dead by motorcycle-riding assassin in Brgy. Malitbog, Calinog, Iloilo .

Catarmin went on record belying the Philippine National Police’s allegation that those massacred and arrested by police and military operatives in the December 30, 2020 bloodbath were communist guerillas.

Swift condemnation

Various groups and individuals condemned the attack against Guillen and called for an immediate investigation.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said Guillen’s attackers are evil.

“It is very clear that those who have motives to silence Atty. Guillen, even to the point of violence, could only be the Duterte regime and its tentacles in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” the labor federation said in Filipino.

The NUPL also condemned the slay attempt against its officer.

The group said it has recorded at least 54 killings of lawyers and judges that appear to be related their human rights work.

In December 2020, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, NUPL, and various legal groups raised concerns over the increasing and alarming incidents of attacks on lawyers before the Supreme Court. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Neri Colmenares wins international human rights award

Neri Colmenares, one of the country’s most prominent public interest lawyers, is this year’s awardee for outstanding contribution to human rights by the foremost organization for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies.

The International Bar Association (IBA) bestowed Colmenares the award for his “extensive contribution to human rights, and his continuing determination and advocacy, in the face of great adversity.”

IBA said Colmenares has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of any group of people, particularly with respect to their right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law.

The presentation was made on Monday, 9 November, during the online Section on Public and Professional Interest Awards ceremony as part of the IBA 2020 – Virtually Together Conference.

Himself a victim of unrelenting red-baiting by military, police and government officials for his human rights advocacy and activism, Colmenares is a former three-term member of the Philippine House of Representatives and is currently the national chairperson of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).

He is also a leader of the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties and adviser for advocacies of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

Stellar academic career

Colmenares’ human rights advocacy began when he became the Western Visayas regional chairperson of the Student Catholic Action of the Philippines during martial law in the 1970s.

Neri Colmenares (Photo by Bong Magpayo from the Bedans for neri Colmenares Facebook page)

While campaigning for the return of student councils in schools ordered closed by then President Ferdinand Marcos, Colmenares was arrested and tortured by the military.

He spent four years in jail as one of martial law’s youngest political prisoners at 18.

After his release from prison, Colmenares earned his BA Economics degree from San Beda University (SBU), his law degree from the University of the Philippines and his Master of Laws degree from the University of Melbourne in Australia on scholarship.

Colmenares is an outstanding alumnus awardee of SBU.

Legal fighter

As a human rights lawyer, Colmenares has argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court and championed causes in the legislature in support of marginalized sectors, including the following:

* The Party List Election Case in 2000, which led to the High Court ordering that 20 per cent of the seats in Congress be reserved for the marginalized and underrepresented poorer .

* The Pork Barrel Case during the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration that led the Supreme Court to declare the Congressional practice as unconstitutional.

* In 2017 Mr Colmenares, alongside fellow human rights lawyers, constitutionalists and several law students, established Manlaban sa EJK that campaigns against the continuing extra judicial killings under President Rodrigo Duterte.

* Colmenares is also acting as co-counsel in a complaint against President Duterte for crimes against humanity, filed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by families of extrajudicial killing victims.

* Colmenares is a counsel-complainant in one of the 37 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

As a parliamentarian, Colmenares advocated for the democratic rights of those with disabilities and the elderly, such as special election precincts to assist them in voting, as well as introducing the Early Voting Law for media personnel who would be covering the election on the day.

He also authored the law mandating the Philippine government to issue early warning to citizens during disasters and calamities as well as an increase of benefits given to social security system pensioners, among many other pieces of legislation.  

In 2005, Colmenares helped organize the Counsels for the Defense against Attacks on Lawyers, a group of lawyers and law students advocating against the unlawful killings and arrests of their colleagues under then President Arroyo.

Colmenares (second from left) denouncing extra-judicial killings. (Photo from Neri Colmenares’s Facebook account)

‘Exceptional lawyer’

In bestowing him the award, IBA Human Rights Law Committee co-chairperson Federica D’Alessandra said Colmenares has drawn on every tool in the legal toolbox, from legislation, to litigation, to advocacy in order to advance human rights and the rule of law for the protection of the Filipino people.

“With this award the IBA recognizes [Colmenares’] incredible accomplishments, and celebrates his great resolve as he continues to fight for media freedom, and stand against extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and unlawful detention in the Philippines,” D’Alessandra said.

“Mr Colmenares is truly an exceptional human rights lawyer, and has contributed hugely to increasing respect for the rule of law and the promotion and protection of human rights. His advocacy is all the more remarkable given the relentless persecution in the Philippines of individuals speaking out against human rights abuses. His continuing determination and courage make him an exceptional awardee,” she added.

No better time

The NUPL said it is humbled by the International Bar Association’s choice of Colmenares as the recipient of the prestigious award.

“It could not have come at a better time than now that human rights lawyers and defenders in the Philippines are under attack especially in the form of vicious vilification commonly referred to as red-tagging,” the NUPL said.

The group said this is the first time that a Filipino has won the award bestowed by IBA’s

80,000 member-lawyers from 190 Bar Associations in 160 countries worldwide.

“We share the elation of our colleagues, clients and friends and see this latest award on yet another prominent progressive leader not only as a distinct and well-deserved honor but also as a tribute to all others who rage against injustice despite the great odds and risks and as a clear repudiation of the ongoing demonization of human rights defenders and social activists in the country,” the NUPL said.

The group also asked the global legal community to continue monitoring the human rights situation in the Philippines and support their campaign for human rights as well as the call to stop the attacks against lawyers, judges and human rights defenders.

“We hope that message sinks in on those forces who peddle lies, spins and crap against us who continue to push back and stand ground against brazen attacks on rights and freedom,” the NUPL said.

Added reason to continue human rights work

Colmenares said the award is both an honor and an inspiration to human rights lawyers like them to continue their work with the people despite the threats and difficulties.

He said awards from established international institutions like the IBA serves as a mantle of protection to threatened lawyers worldwide.

“Fifty (50) lawyers and judges have been killed in the Philippines since 2016 and this award will also provide a mantle of protection for human rights lawyers like me,” Colmenares said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘It ain’t over yet’

“It ain’t over yet. We will not cease to exhaust any and all legitimate steps and platforms to challenge this draconian law. This without doubt is the most unpopular and perilous piece of legislation that could ever be pushed by a government that is fixated with the potion of power. In time, we will look back to this day of infamy and say the unbridled and terrorizing power of the government will always bend and retreat eventually when the people push back hard enough.”Atty. Edre U. Olalia, ‘Activist, not terrorist’

‘It is imperative that the Anti-Terrorism Bill be fervently resisted’

“Recent events have shown that the greater threat comes from a government ignorant, even outright dismissive, of the constitutional limits of its own authority and the importance and value of the rights and liberties of its people.

It is, therefore, imperative that attempts to pass the Anti-Terrorism Bill be fervently resisted, not only to protect those voices critical of the government, but also to protect everyone else who wishes to speak freely about matters of public interests and concern, without censorship or fear of punishment, without someone looking over our shoulder or stalking us, mostly without our knowing it.”

Atty. Ephraim B. Cortez
Secretary General,
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Carlo Francisco

‘Lawyers must serve justice incessantly’

Congratulatory message of NUPL in regards to the 2019 Bar Exam result:

“There is no “new normal” in rudimentary notions of fairness, equity, justice. Only new perspectives and new approaches from the lens of the people and not the powerful.

Lawyers must serve justice and complain incessantly against everything that is wrong in our society. In the right way, for the right reasons, in the right place, at the right time.

CONGRATULATIONS!”

Atty. Edre U. Olalia
President, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Jo Maline Mamangun

Lawyers vs lawyer: Calida’s attack against reporter-lawyer Navallo earns objections

The country’s top public lawyer earned the objection of his fellow lawyers after publicly castigating another lawyer while filing a petition questioning how media giant ABS-CBN had been implementing its franchises at the Supreme Court last Monday, February 10.

While being asked by ABS-CBN reporter and lawyer Mike Navallo for an interview, Solicitor General Jose Calida confronted him for allegedly “always criticizing” him in the news.

The lawyers’ group National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said Calida wore a stoic expression when he reprimanded the reporter but used an arrogant tone as “he condescendingly challenged the young but unperturbed Navallo to practice law and face him in court.”

Navallo calmly replied to Calida that he was “only doing his job.”

“Calida’s actions – without doubt condoned if not encouraged and goaded by President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s persistent threats against the media outfit – reveal an attempt at censorship and prior restraint, masked as a perfectly legal action to ‘put an end… to highly abusive practices,’” the NUPL said.

The solicitor general is the official chief legal counsel to President Duterte—himself a lawyer—and the entire executive branch of government.

The NUPL added that Calida’s “feudal treatment” of a fellow lawyer based on his self-professed superiority does not speak well neither of the office he represents nor of the profession.

The human rights lawyers group added that “Calida’s showcase of power exposes this government’s utter disrespect of the people’s right to a free and independent press, and its unqualified intolerance to dissent, disapproval of any diversion from the official line, and aversion to critical yet constructive views, opinions and ideas.”

“It fits right into the mold of presidential tantrums in tandem with legislative collusion. We pray that the judiciary does not become a party to this outrageous lawfare,” NUPL said.

“History will judge all these disingenuous legal assaults against freedoms and liberties the way they deserve. In time, everyone will be given his due,” the group warned.

Former Supreme Court spokesperson Atty. Theodore Te also came to the defense of the reporter, saying Navallo is a good lawyer.

“[Navallo] is a better lawyer than he is a reporter and he is one of the best reporters I know,” Te wrote on his twitter account.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) earlier condemned Calida’s actions, saying he “clearly overstepped the bounds of his office when he turned personal against Navallo” who was on coverage.

The NUJP said Calida was being boorish, “a classic example of a government factotum who mistakes his position of authority as a license to throw his weight around.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gate-crashing general booed out of forum by his red-baiting victims

A gate-crashing general was booed and shooed away from a forum organized and attended by the very victims of the government’s red-baiting tactics that he spearheads.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Deputy Chief-of-Staff for Civil-Military Operations Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. was escorted out of the Quezon City Sports Club room where members of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) were attending the forum entitled “Weaponizing the Law, Criminalizing Dissent.”

The forum, co-organized by the National Union of People’s Lawyers, was aimed at highlighting “the abuses committed against critics of the [Duterte] administration.”

During the open forum, Perlade asked to speak and walked to the front but Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo did not allow him.

“This is a forum organized by MAT…Gen. Parlade has every platform that he can get, including mass media to spill his twisted lies. He is not welcome here…If he can be so kind and act like a gentleman and step out of this hall,” Araullo said.

NUPL video of Gen Parlade being asked to leave the event he gate-crashed.

As applause greeted Araullo’s statement, an organizer motioned for Parlade to step out of the room.

The general still tried to speak but was roundly heckled.

Eventually, Araullo and several others, including a visibly incensed elderly nun, escorted Parlade out.

Out in the hallway, Parlade tried to argue but was flatly told he was not welcome.

Parlade has led the red-baiting of activists nationwide and abroad in so-called peace caravans.

Activists said Parlade’s repeated accusations endanger their lives and violate their human rights. 

Last November 9, Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region chapter linked the enforced disappearance of its former secretary-general Honey Mae Suazo to Parlade’s accusations she is associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army (NPA).

Parlade singled Suazo out after she assisted the family of NPA leader Zaldy Cañete to visit the latter who was hospitalized after suffering near-fatal injuries after an encounter in Bukidnon Province.

The group said Suazo, missing since November 2 after visiting the graves of her departed relatives, was subjected to numerous threats, the most recent of which came from Parlade himself.

In a statement, Bayan said the organizers did not want Parlade to use the forum as his platform.

“He has no place among human rights defenders he has constantly attacked and endangered,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)