Silencing the lawyers

Silencing the lawyers

If you don’t succumb to complications from COVID, you could die from armed violence. This is the concern of legal professionals as their ranks continue to be thinned by deadly armed attacks, with many of the cases unsolved.

As of March this year, the Free Legal Assistance Group counted at least 61 lawyers who have been killed during the Duterte administration. FLAG says nearly half of the murders were work-related or possibly linked to the victims’ work.

Of the 61 killings, 26 were deemed to be work-related while 15 were believed to be linked to the victims’ legal representation of drug personalities. Another 12 were attributed to personal reasons such as unsettled debts or robbery. The motives for the remaining 15 cases have not been established.

Legal professionals remember with concern that President Duterte, in a speech in 2016 when he launched his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs, said he would put in his crosshairs even the lawyers representing drug suspects. Everyone, however, is entitled to legal representation when accused of committing a crime, no matter how serious the imputed offense. Murdering the defense lawyer deprives the accused offender of a constitutional right.

Angelo Karlo Guillen does not represent drug personalities, but he is among the counsels in the petitions challenging the Anti-Terrorism Act. Last March 3 in Iloilo City, he was beaten and stabbed in the head with a screwdriver by two masked men who fled with his backpack and sling bag containing legal documents. Fortunately, Guillen survived.

Guillen was a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, and he is not the first progressive legal professional to suffer a violent attack. His ordeal prompted several prominent lawyers to call for stronger action by the Supreme Court to stop the attacks on legal professionals.

Every attack on a member of the legal profession further undermines an already weak criminal justice system. The attacks will stop only if enough perpetrators are caught and brought to justice. Clearly, more effort is needed in this regard.