MANILA, Philippines – The international delegation of lawyers who recently visited the Philippines to investigate the killings of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges claimed they experienced heavy surveillance during their visit.
Suzanne Adely and Hans Gaasbeek, from the US and Netherlands respectively, said a man and a woman in civilian clothes took their pictures during the delegation's press conference on Monday, March 18, at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) headquarters in Pasig City.
"He milled around the delegation and was not-so-discreetly taking our pictures and snooping on our conversation. Meanwhile, a woman in sloppy civilian clothes was also close by and was looking ill at ease, reporting on the top of her voice to somebody over the phone," Adely and Gaasbeek said in a statement late Tuesday night, March 19.
All 9 foreign lawyers had flown out of the country Tuesday night. (READ: State surveillance as a tool to silence critics)
The foreign lawyers said their vehicles were tailed by two men on two motorcycles with no plate numbers when they left the IBP on Monday to go to a mall for lunch.
"We were tailed until we reached our hotel where more men in civilian clothes and bullcaps were posted at both entrances, obviously stalking us and peering into the lobby and monitoring the ingress and egress of people and vehicles," the delegation said.
The delegation interviewed families, prosecutors, judges, and National Bureau of Investigation representatives to probe the 37 cases of lawyer killings in the Philippines since the start of the Duterte administration.
The delegation concluded that there has been no effective investigation of killings due to the lack of initial probes by the police and the passive roles of prosecutors. The lawyers said prosecutors, judges, and agents expressed frustration at the setup, and that supposedly some of the perpetrators of the crimes were cops themselves.
The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines did not grant them interviews.
"We attempted to meet with the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines but up until the time we concluded our schedule they did not give us an audience," Adely said.
The delegation said: "Under the contemporaneous circumstances and in the context of the usual reaction of the Duterte government towards opinions inconsistent with its official line, these vexatious acts against our delegation appear to have the fingerprints of intimidation and reprisal by State agents."
Another team of foreign probers are also expected to visit – those from the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on Tuesday that the preliminary examinations into the killings in the drug campaign will continue despite the Philippines' withdrawal.