DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Lawyers criticized the Surigao del Sur police for its surveillance of a public attorney giving legal aid to suspected rebels in court.
A statement signed by 16 lawyers, including officers of Integrated Bar of the Philippines and deans of law colleges in Mindanao, slammed Surigao del Sur Provincial Police Director Colonel Dennis Siruno for “gross ignorance and blatant disrespect of the law.”
Siruno issued a memorandum on March 29 ordering the Lianga Police Station to “profile” a lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).
The memo further detailed that the order was made following a “small group discussion” between personnel of the Regional Investigation Division and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, which observed “legal personalities” have been handling cases of “CTGs” or “communist terrorist groups,” the term they describe members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The lawyers said the memorandum “is an undue interference and grave assault on the independence and role of lawyers in our justice system.”
They call on Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos and the Philippine National Police leadership to investigate the matter and impose sanctions on the official.
They also asked the Supreme Court to “take a more aggressive stance in protecting the members of the Bench and Bar.”
The statement was signed by IBP Eastern Mindanao Governor Daniel Campoamor; IBP Davao City Chapter President Aiza Mae Kanda; IBP-Surigao del Sur Chapter president Peter Neil Trinidad; Manuel Quibod, Dean of Ateneo de Davao University College of Law and also the regional coordinator of Free Legal Assistance Group; Dean Antonio Arrelano of the University of Mindanao College of Law; Dean Ramon Edison Batacan of Rizal Memorial Colleges School of Law; Dean Israelito Torreon of the Jose Maria Colleges – School of Law; Dean Genevieve Marie Dolores Brandares-Paulino of Cor Jesu College – Law School; Dean Lynnart Walford Tan of the St. Thomas More School of Law and Business – College of Law; Past IBP officers Caesar Europa (former IBP Governor, Eastern Mindanao Region); former IBP – Davao City Chapter presidents Socorro Ermac-Cabreros, Eleanor dela Peña, Marcos Chua Jr., and Carlos Isagani T Zarate; and Antonio Azarcon, chairman of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao.
‘Chilling and insidious’
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in a statement called Siruno’s memorandum “chilling and insidious” as it shows “ignorance about the critical role of lawyers among law enforcers.”
“All persons are entitled to due process, no matter their stature or place in life. Lawyers are duty-bound to ensure that not only truth and justice prevails, but that it is done in a fair and efficient manner,” NUPL President lawyer Ephraim Cortez said.
Lawyer Dexter Lopoz, spokesperson for the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) explained that lawyers in the Public Attorney’s Office are duty-bound to handle cases of persons who can’t afford lawyers, especially political prisoners.
“It is the sworn duty of public attorneys to take the cudgels for accused and litigants who have no means to secure the services of counsels of their own choice – including political detainees,” said Lopoz.
“Even when PAO lawyers would want to refuse handling high-risk cases involving captured armed combatants, the Rules of Court, the Code of Professional Responsibility, and even their oath of office – wouldn’t allow them to do so,” Lopoz added.
Lopoz said that if the police and military continue vilifying and red-tagging lawyers for doing their duty, “that will most definitely dissuade private (lawyers) from accepting these cases, especially on pro-bono arrangements.”
NUPL, in which UPLM is affiliated, noted 86 lawyers, judges, and public attorneys have been killed in the past 15 years, including five of its members who have been handling human rights cases for farmers, workers, and political prisoners.
The legal group said they have documented 262 work-related attacks including human rights workers, and 65% of these occurred in the past six years under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte. (davaotoday.com)