De Lima airs concern over spate of killings of lawyers

Published April 7, 2018, 2:45 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Mario Casayuran

Detained opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima is concerned over the recent spate of killings and attacks against members of the legal profession, especially those lawyers who are handling high-profile cases.

Senator Leila de Lima (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco / MANILA BULLETIN)
Senator Leila de Lima (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco / MANILA BULLETIN)

She thus filed recently Senate Resolution 668 where she pointed out that attacks against legal professionals continue to be common practice — and even worsens — under the leadership of President Duterte ‘’who promotes a culture of violence and impunity.’’

“Since the beginning of this administration, in spite of constant calls for action to protect members of legal profession, the numbers of lawyers killed have increased and without any significant executive or legislative action taken,” she said.

De Lima, a lawyer by profession, cited several cases of attacks against members of the legal profession, which proves that their security is often threatened in discharging their mandates.

Among these were the killings of lawyer Jonah John Ungab after attending hearings at the Cebu City Hall of Justice, including the case of his client, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa Jr., last Feb. 19 and lawyer Rogelio Bato, lawyer of Mayor Rolando Espinosa and Espinosa Jr., during an ambush in Albuera, Leyte in August 2016.

De Lima also cited the killings of lawyer Melver Tolentino, counsel of a person currently involved in a drug case, who was shot several times while he was refueling at a gasoline station in Ilocos Sur last Sept. 2016 and lawyer Hermie Aban, the lawyer for former Governor Joel Reyes, who was shot by a gunman aboard a motorcycle in Palawan last August 2016.

“Various human rights groups and lawyer organizations have expressed alarm over the recent incidents saying that these attacks are attacks against the legal profession and the judicial system,” she said.

Based on the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, de Lima said the State has an obligation to ensure that lawyers can perform their mandate without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference from State or non-State actors.

“Lawyers are advocates of the litigants and they act to facilitate the administration of justice. To threaten or endanger the lawyers is to subvert the effective functioning of our justice system,” she added.

“Professionals are guardians of justice, and such vile incidences pose a serious threat to democracy and the rule of law,” she pointed out.

According to a report from Alternative Law Journal, 114 legal professionals were killed between January 1, 1999 and October 2014 – four of which were judges while eight were prosecutors, and the rest were lawyers.

A known human rights defender, De Lima also filed Senate Bill No. 1721 amending Article 14 of the Revised Penal Code, adding as an aggravating circumstance the crime committed against lawyers and justice sector officials.