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Attacks on lawyers and associated impunity worse with terror law

A press statement by the Public Interest Law Center (PILC)
March 13, 2021

The Public Interest Law Center condemns and views Calbayog City PNP’s letter to a local court asking for names of lawyers handling cases of alleged members of communist-terrorist groups as a downright admission that attacks on human rights lawyers is a government-sanctioned plan.

Profiling is not only an attack against human rights lawyers but is also an affront against the legal profession. It shows that lawyers, considered as officers of the court, are themselves being targeted by the government merely for defending their clients. It runs contrary to the basic international principle that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.

The government’s myopic view that lawyers handling cases of perceived terrorists are terrorists themselves is a danger to all. The many petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 claim in some way or another real and credible threat of labelling and prosecution as terrorists. Ergo, under dangerous police presumptions, their lawyers are targets as well. With no restraining order or dismissal of the terror law in sight, the government can wield any or all of the overreaching powers on surveillance, arrest, and detention.

It is no secret that the Duterte administration has amped up a campaign against lawyers who choose to help those who speak out against government abuses, and most especially those who do so themselves. In between the red-tagging, maligning, and insulting, it has sat on or bungled investigations on intensifying attacks against human rights lawyers, most recent of which was the gruesome stabbing in the head of NUPL-Panay Secretary General Angelo Karlo T. Guillen.

Notwithstanding an apology and a retraction of the letter by the police, fact remains that lawyers are being attacked and killed extrajudicially in the Philippines at an alarming rate and with unimaginable impunity. They join a roster of the most beleaguered, alongside activists, journalists, the political opposition, those singled out and identified by Duterte for elimination. Nowhere is safe so long as the Duterte government is hell bent on eliminating any form of dissent, human rights be damned.

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