Friday, May 26, 2006

Solution to Escalating Human Rights Violation : Serious Government Prosecution of Perpetrators, Not arming victims

CODAL expresses alarm over the escalation of political assassinations, including the killing of members of the legal profession. CODAL recorded for this year a total of three lawyers killed and six cases of serious harassment and threats, including one serious physical attack against one of the impeachment lawyers this year. Four lawyers and three judges were killed in 2004 while seven lawyers and one judge were killed in 2005. CODAL also recorded 12 cases of non-fatal attacks including 2 cases of frustrated murders against lawyers in 2005. These attacks were the subject of a manifesto signed by hundreds of lawyers nationwide submitted by CODAL to Pres. Gloria Arroyo last year urging her to condemn the attacks and take immediate action. Until now, Pres. Arroyo has not addressed the issue of attacks against lawyers even if she promised then Chief Justice Hilario Davide of speedy action on the attacks against judges.

Many lawyers such as Atty. Romy Capulong and Atty. Ruel Pulido were also the subject of threats of criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice this year for merely advocating for their clients. Most of the victims were human rights lawyers who filed charges against members of the AFP and PNP for human rights violations. CODAL denounces the continued killing and harassment of members of the legal profession and the climate of impunity both of which constitutes a clear and present danger to the legal profession and the administration of justice.

Three Lawyer Casualties in 2006

Three lawyers have been brutally killed since January 2006. Atty. Carlo Magno Umingga, a member of the Pangasinan People’s Law Enforcement Board (PLEB) was shot and killed on April 14 this year in an attack which also seriously injured his wife. Investigation disclosed that Atty. Umingga earned the ire of many policemen due to his work with the PLEB. CODAL was also informed of the brutal killing of Atty. Rogelio Montero in Bulacan also in April. Prosecutor Godofredo Pacenio, Jr. was shot dead on March 31, 2006 in Agusan Del Norte.

Role of Government under the United Nations

CODAL hopes that the inclusion of lawyers as human rights victims in the 2006 Amnesty International (AI) report will spur the speedy investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.

The AI Report highlighted the case of Atty. Felidito Dacut, member of the Board of Directors of IBP Leyte and a Bayan Muna national council member who was shot dead by two unidentified men on a motorbike in Tacloban city, Leyte on March 14, 2005. CODAL notes that Atty. Dacut was regarded in his community as a consistent defender of the poor who had condemned the heightened militarization in Leyte and an active member of the IBP. His murder remains unsolved.

According to Paragraph 18 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the Eight United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (1990) “lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their client’s causes as a result of the discharge of their functions.” The Philippine government is required to protect lawyers under Paragraph 16 of the above Principles which declares that “governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and consult with their clients freely; (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic and other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”

These continued attacks on lawyers and judges are key indicators of the abysmal human rights situation in our country and the inability of the government to protect its own citizens. By simply practicing their profession and handling human rights and labor cases, many “public interest” lawyers are being subjected to brazen attacks. These attacks have grave ramifications on the ability of citizens to have adequate access to legal services. CODAL emphasizes that the escalating attacks against lawyers are ultimately attacks on the legal profession as they impact on the independence and integrity of the practice of law.

CODAL is concerned about the government suggestion to media people, and presumably to militants and lawyers, to arm themselves in light of these attacks. The duty to protect the people and prosecute criminals is the task of government and privatizing security by shifting the responsibility to the targets will not solve the problem and the proliferation of guns nationwide may even exacerbate the situation.

With the AI 2006 report, CODAL reiterates its request for international lawyers groups to express concern over the impunity with which assassins kill militants, lawyers and journalists and the government’s inability or unwillingness to seriously investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

Reference : Atty. Neri Colmenares, Spokesperson
Date : May 26, 2006


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