Friday, January 27, 2006

HARRASMENT OF LAWYER OF MAGDALO SOLDIERS: AN OPEN THREAT TO THE LEGAL PROFESSION

CODAL condemns the spate of attacks against Atty. Ruel Pulido, lead lawyer of some Magdalo soldiers currently under charges for the Oakwood “mutiny”. The thinly-veiled malicious insinuations by Army Chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon on Atty. Pulido’s supposed responsibility for the embarrassing escape of four Magdalo members are deplorable. Also received information that Atty. Pulido was even threatened with physical harm at the time that he was legally intervening for his clients.

Further, the public statements of the AFP and DOJ Sec. Raul Gonzales that they will file charges against Atty. Pulido for “conspiring” in the escape results in a “chilling effect” to lawyers who earnestly fight for their clients’ rights.

Sec. Gonzales is supposed to know that he is precluded from publicly declaring the filing of charges against any person unless a preliminary investigation has been conducted. Under Philippine rules on procedure, the Justice Secretary has the power to review results of preliminary investigations and should not prejudge the finding of probable cause sufficient for the filing of any information in any criminal complaint, especially those filed against critics of the government.

The AFP’s outlandish theory that Atty. Pulido’s objections “distracted” the guards and facilitated the escape of the Magdalo Four is not only baseless, considering that they presented no proof to support their self-serving allegations, but also shows the incompetence of the AFP. The Armed Forces should not act like a whining faultfinder for their lapse in security. They must admit to their mistakes and should look inwardly at the publicly-perceived growing grumblings in their ranks against corruption, incompetence, illegitimacy and other serious allegations.

Atty. Pulido’s objection to the transfer of his clients to another detention cell was a legitimate exercise of his professional duty to protect the rights of his clients. Rule 114, Sec. 3 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure plainly provides that :

Sec. 3. No person under detention by legal process shall be released or transferred except upon order of the court or when he is admitted to bail.

The transfer of the Magdalo Four to another detention cell was illegal since it was from a unilateral, even suspicious, AFP order rather from an order from a court. The AFP chain of command cannot supplant the existing legal processes. In fact, AFP officers who insist in transferring, without a court order, those accused of the Oakwood coup in various courts, are administratively and criminally liable under Philippine laws.

The public pronouncements of these public officials are intended to strike fear among lawyers, especially those representing opponents of the Arroyo government, and force them to remain passive in the face of violation of their clients’ rights. These endanger the practice of law and constitutes as threats to the free exercise of the legal profession. Lawyers will also be forced to violate the Code of Professional Responsibility, the rule on ethics in the practice of law, particularly Canon 18 which provides that “ A Lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence” and Canon 19 which further provides that “ A Lawyer shall represent his client with zeal within the bounds of law”.

CODAL demands that the AFP and Sec. Gonzales refrain from threatening lawyers and issue a declaration that lawyers’ asserting their clients’ rights will not be subject to trial by publicity and unfounded charges. CODAL further demands that the AFP and Sec. Gonzales, unless they present clear evidence against Atty. Pulido, make a public apology for their public threats and harassment against a member of the legal profession. Lastly, CODAL calls on Pres. Gloria Arroyo to act swiftly and decisively on cases of killings of judges and lawyers which have drastically increased during her term.

Reference : Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares
Date : January 27, 2008

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