Half of lawyer killings since 2016 were work-related – FLAG

In its independent tally, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) counted at least 61 lawyers who have been killed under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte – half of them work-related and more than a dozen due to drugs.

"The fact that almost half of the killings were due to work-related or possibly work-related motives is an indicator of the growing danger of practicing the legal profession in the country," said FLAG in its report provided to Rappler on Wednesday, March 10.

Of the 61 lawyer killings in the group's count, 26 were found to be work-related, 15 to be drug-related, 12 to be due to personal motives, with 15 due to still unknown reasons, according to the report.

"A killing is deemed work-related if the victim was killed because of his/her legal practice. A killing is tagged as drug-related when the victim was known to represent alleged drug personalities or was alleged to have been a drug personality," said FLAG.

Winston Intong, who was gunned down near his house in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on January 14, was reportedly on the administration's drug list.

"There are instances these categories overlap, such as when the work of a prosecutor involved handling illegal drug cases or when the victim was known to handle drug cases," said FLAG.

In one his speeches in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte warned the lawyers of drug suspects, saying "even them, I will include them," according to a report on Inquirer.

Personal motives include personal debts and robbery. 

Rappler's count stands at 58. The reason for the different numbers is classification, as some lawyers who died were not currently practicing at the time of their killing, or they had another profession they were actively engaged in at the time of their death.

The country's most prominent lawyers have banded together to call for stronger Supreme Court action to address the killings, with one even calling for a strike, apparently pushed to a tipping point by the stabbing of Angelo Karlo "AK" Guillen in Iloilo City in the 1st week of March.

Guillen, a member of the progressive National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), was also counsel to the anti-terror law petitions.

Inventory of cases, police involvement

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), an office under the Supreme Court, issued on Tuesday, March 9, a circular ordering judges to do an inventory of cases pending before them that involve violence against lawyers.

The circular, signed by Court Administrator Midas Marquez, came 3 months after Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta signed his first memorandum on January 6 directing the OCA to address "growing concerns" over the killings.

Data provided by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to Rappler in December showed that only 5 cases have reached the courts.. There were only 54 killings back then. The DOJ explained that the rest have not even reached prosecutor dockets because there are no known suspects.

In FLAG's report, 48 victims were killed by unknown gunmen, usually on board motorcycles. Gunmen in 5 cases were later identified.

"In 4 killings, the perpetrators were identified as police officers. 3 of the killings perpetrated by police officers were done by ambushing the victim either by riding a motorcycle or another vehicle. The Department of Justice dismissed the charges against the police officers in one of the killings," said FLAG.

The dismissed case is the killing of Deputy Quezon City Prosecutor Rogelio Velasco, where the DOJ cleared 3 city policemen in 2019.

"In two incidents, the perpetrator committed suicide after killing the victim," said FLAG.

In the case of Ombudsman prosecutor Madonna Joy Ednaco Tanyag killed in June 2018, the suspect Angelito Avenido Jr was killed inside the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) Headquarters in Camp Karingal. Avenido, whose face was swollen when his mugshot was taken on June 4 that year, allegedly grabbed the gun of his police escort.

Belated actions

The Supreme Court and the DOJ held meetings with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) only in January, when by the last quarter of December, the number of killings had already breached 50, most of them done in succession.

A day after one of their meetings on January 13, the 56th lawyer was killed in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. (The number is based on Rappler's count which includes specific names. FLAG's report does not, so we are unable to reconcile our lists just yet.)

An official inventory by the government would be a more authoritative list, but the DOJ has yet to come up with its own. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the department would provide one "soon," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"We [the DOJ and IBP] agreed to work closely on this matter," Guevarra told reporters.

In an earlier statement, FLAG said the Supreme Court must also ask the Philippine National Police (PNP) about how their investigations into these killings are going. FLAG said that information must be publicized.

An international delegation of lawyers said in their own report in 2019 that there was a lack of genuine investigation into lawyer killings, mostly because policemen were not conducting initial investigations. Prosecutors, the foreign lawyers said, were left to wait for police reports that never came.

Human rights advocates have already sounded the alarm to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), adding a pressure point to the Duterte administration, which is under increasingly tighter scrutiny by international bodies. – Rappler.com

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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

image