Roque-founded law firm vows to continue fighting Duterte’s drug war

Lian Buan

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Roque-founded law firm vows to continue fighting Duterte’s drug war
Harry Roque left the human rights-focused law firm Centerlaw in 2016 upon election to Congress

MANILA, Philippines – The Center for International Law (Centerlaw) has vowed to continue challenging President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, despite the appointment to Malacañang of Harry Roque, one of its founders.

“Centerlaw continues with this work risking life and limb to reach out and empower communities that have been victimized and to bring justice to those who have been killed in this bloody drug war,” the law firm said in a statement.

Roque has been named Duterte’s new spokesperson.

Roque was one of the founders of Centerlaw and took on high-profile cases with the firm before his election in 2016 as representative of Kabayan Partylist.

The known human rights lawyer has defended families of the Maguindanao Massacre victims, slain transgender Jennifer Laude, and slain journalist and environmental activist Gerry Ortega, among others.

Roque left Centerlaw in 2016.

“As he undertakes a new and challenging endeavor as Presidential Spokesperson, we trust that he will be imbued with the same commitment to human rights as he has espoused in his years at Centerlaw,” the statement added.

Centerlaw was the law firm that managed to secure a writ of amaro for Efren Morillo and relatives of other drug suspects killed in the police’s Oplan TokHang. It was the very first legal challenge to Duterte’s drug war.

The firm’s lawyers continue to push for this case, even filing murder complaints against local policemen before the Office of the Ombudsman.

In early October, Centerlaw again filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) on behalf of 35 residents of San Andres Bukid in Manila who were killed in police operations.

“And while Professor Roque has chosen to pursue his advocacies inside government, Centerlaw continues and will continue in its steadfast and independent work outside of government, speaking truth to power, helping communities, and espousing cases against those who violate human rights,” the firm said.

Different legal and human rights organizations strongly urged Roque not to take the role of Duterte’s spokesperson as his human rights vision is “incompatible with working for Duterte, who embodies everything we and our partners struggle against.”

But Roque defended the move and said it would be a great opportunity to have a direct access to the President and advise him on human rights issues.

Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman, however, points out that since Roque joined the House of Representatives, he has taken a stance adverse to his human rights background.

“Roque has minimized the grave import of the unabated extra-judicial killings related to the President’s deadly campaign against the drug menace; he voted for the confirmation of the declaration of marital law and its extension; and he did not vote against the reduction of the CHR budget to P1,000 and even called for a zero budget for the CHR,” Lagman said. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.