SC on lawyer’s killing in Cebu: ‘Violence solves nothing’

Published August 27, 2021, 1:08 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court

“The killing of any lawyer is of serious concern to all of us. Violence solves nothing. It is anathema to the rule of law.”

This was the statement issued by the Supreme Court (SC), through Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen – chair of the SC’s Committee on Human Rights – on killing last Aug. 26 of lawyer Rex Jose Mario Fernandez in Cebu City.

“On behalf of the Judiciary’s Committee on Human Rights, the Chief Justice, and the other Justices, we extend our condolences to the family and friends of Atty. Rex Jose Mario Fernandez,” Leonen said in a statement.

Justice Leonen’s committee has been tasked by the SC to study, analyze and submit recommendations to the High Court as a full court on concrete measures to deal with threats and killings of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges.

Reports stated that Fernandez was onboard his car on R. Duterte Street when he was shot by a still unidentified gunman who later fled aboard a motorcycle. His driver was injured and was taken to a hospital. The same reports stated that a woman at the backseat of the car was unhurt.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has decided to conduct its own investigation into the killing of Fernandez as it “decries the brazen assault against a person’s right to life.”

“We have also seen numerous assaults against lawyers. It is tragic that those too in the legal profession have fallen victims to injustices and human rights violations that they have sworn to fight,” the CHR said through Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) has denounced the unabated killings of lawyers in the country as it lamented it “had lost count” on the number of those killed.

“No words, indeed. Another colleague has fallen with his boots on,” said NUPL President Edre U. Olalia on Fernandez’s killing. Olalia also said that Fernandez was active in human rights cases in Cebu.

Last March, the SC condemned “in the strongest sense every instance where a lawyer is threatened or killed, and where a judge is threatened and unfairly labeled.”

This was the SC’s reaction as it acted on the letters and manifestations of various sectors, particularly lawyers’ groups, on threats and killings of lawyers, including prosecutors and judges.

Some of the manifestations were filed by lawyers who are counsels in 37 petitions that challenged the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 filed before the SC.

Many lawyers’ groups told the SC that more than 60 lawyers, including prosecutors and judges, have been killed since 2016.

The SC said:

“We do not and will not tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles, and speculate on the worth of human lives.

“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the Judiciary. To assault the Judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands.

“This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours. This cannot go undenounced on the Court’s watch.

“We are aware that there are wayward elements who, in their zeal to do what they think is necessary, would simply brush aside the limitations in our law as mere obstacles.

“This should never be countenanced, for it is only in the enjoyment of our inalienable and indivisible rights that our freedoms become meaningful.”

All the letters and manifestation filed in the killings of lawyers were turned over by the SC to Justice Leonen’s committee.

On Fernandez’s killing, Leonen said: “Even as we continue to sift through and analyze the voluminous records and reports submitted to us upon our call to discern whether there are patterns in the killing of lawyers and threats to judges so that we can evaluate a strategic response, we still welcome new reports to be submitted by the police and by other organizations on the latest incident in Cebu.”

He said the SC hopes that the police and other human rights groups can submit their findings before the end of September. “Shortly after, we will be submitting our report and recommendations for the action of the Court En Banc” (full court).