Arrest of lawyers in Makati bar 'very grave cause for concern' – IBP

MANILA, Philippines – The arrest of 3 lawyers who were monitoring the Time in Manila bar raid in Makati is a "very grave cause for concern," the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said on Friday, August 17.

"If you include even counsel in your, in the charge sheet, that's a very grave cause for concern not only for the IBP but the entire judicial system as a whole," IBP national president Abdiel Fajardo said in an interview with Rappler.

He was referring to the arrest of Jan Vincent Sambrano Soliven, Lenie Rocel Elmido Rocha, and Romulo Bernard Bustamante Alarkon who belong to the Desierto & Desierto law firm. The firm represents one of the owners of the Makati bar, which was first raided on Saturday, August 11.

At the same time, in a statement, the Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag) denounced also on Friday the arrest of the 3 lawyers. 

"Their unlawful warrantless arrest for performing their duties as lawyers personifies the government's arrogance, ignorance and disregard of the law. It demonstrates that the so-called 'War on Drugs' is really a war against the law. That is real purpose is not to stop illegal drugs but to supplant justice from the courts with 'justice' from the barrels of the guns of the police. And that this government is hell bent on bullying everyone who stands in their way and cowing them into submission," it said.

Why the alarm? Fajardo said the lawyers were only doing their job as counsels in ensuring that the search warrant would be properly implemented in the property of their client.

"As we know, lawyers are officers of the court, and their presence is necessary for the client's defense, because they have to ensure that everything is served, everything is done in accordance with tenor of the search warrant," Fajardo said.

The lawyers should be allowed to monitor, and not become targets of the search warrant, Fajardo emphasized. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: IBP national president Abdiel Fajardo on the rule of law)

Cops' explanation: According to police, the lawyers harassed the searching party by demanding for a search warrant after cops entered the bar.

The lawyers also allegedly prevented the raiding team from climbing up to the 3rd floor of the bar while allegedly refusing to introduce themselves and name their client. Police added that the lawyers had no "coordination" and "authority" before they crossed police lines.

Because they were seen as hindering the police operation, the 3 lawyers were arrested and slapped with obstruction of justice charges.

IBP suspects illegal detention: According to Fajardo, the IBP will be backing a petition for habeas corpus set to be submitted to the Makati Regional Trial Court Friday afternoon, which would compel cops to bring the lawyers to court for the court to determine the legality of their detention.

According to the boss of the 3 lawyers, Diane Desierto, the 3 lawyers have been detained past the 18-hour maximum for warrantless arrests. (READ: If you're arrested or detained, know these rights)

By her count, her 3 colleagues were detained from Thursday at around 1:30 pm and have not been released as of 10:30 am on Friday. This would mean that they have been detained for at least 21 hours and could already file an illegal detention complaint against the police.

In the statement signed by chairperson Jose Manuel Diokno, Flag called on "members of the bar and bench, and all law-abiding citizens, to resist government's efforts to replace law with force and democracy with fascism. Unless we act, and act now, the freedoms that we fought so long and hard for will crumble into dust, as they are already in the process of dissolving." – with JC Punongbayan/Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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