Human Rights Summit: Lawyers go all out vs war on drugs

MANILA, Philippines – First they spoke out, then they filed cases, now the next move for the lawyers who oppose the government’s war on drugs is hold a summit meant to train other sectors to join their fight.

A Human Rights Summit will be held on November 23 and 24 at SM Aura in Taguig led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and other law groups who have been at the forefront of filing cases against alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) committed under the mantle of the drug war.

The summit “aims to provide a platform for ideas and venue for collaboration amongst legal professionals and service providers to help address the legal concerns relating to the war on drugs and its impact on the marginalized and powerless sectors of the society.” (READ: Was the PNP’s war on drugs illegal? Here’s why lawyers think so)

"The challenge now is to be brave, to speak truth to power. Not to come up with excuses on why we cannot do this and that. To go beyond legalese, to realize the relevance of our profession at this point in our history,” Human Rights Commissioner Roberto Cadiz said on Monday, November 20 at the IBP headquarters in Pasig, surrounded by portraits of the luminaries who headed the official organization of all Philippine lawyers.

The IBP will hold the summit alongside Center for International Law (CenterLaw), Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Artikulo Tres, National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP) and Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment Through Legal Services (IDEALS).

One of the main features of the summit will be a briefer on forensics, as they are crucial in establishing facts and evidence in an EJK case buildup. 

Karry Sison of FLAG said they will also focus on ‘capacitating’ other sectors and communities to document police operations for themselves. This will be their workaround in the event that the police restrict access to case folders. (READ: How TokHang lives on through barangay officials)

Lawyers for Duterte

IBP has a current 60,000-membership and president Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo is aware that many of his members do not support his anti-drug war stance. The IBP-Davao Chapter, for one, throws its support behind their former mayor. 

Fajardo said his acts and statements go through the IBP board.

Another prominent law group, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, is allied with the President. They are all technically members of the IBP, including Duterte who was once a city prosecutor. (READ: Why are Filipinos supporting Duterte's drug war?)

Cadiz blasted this as a form of “aiding and abetting.”

"Justice, human rights and the rule of law are being mocked by a lawyer aided and abetted by fellow lawyers. This is the political situation we're now in,” Cadiz said.

Gil Aquino of CenterLaw refused to address the issue of their group’s founder Harry Roque becoming the presidential spokesperson. Roque left CenterLaw when he ran for Congress.

But he said: “It's hard when other lawyers have different opinions, but we have to choose where we stand in this part of our history. We are sticking to what we know, to constitution and to justice.”

Marlon Manuel of the Alternative Law Groups (ALG) said the summit also aims to appeal to the private lawyers to join their cause.

Ang pinaka malaking banta sa ating demokrasya ay ang hindi pagkilos ng mamamayan sa panahong kailangan nang kumilos,” Manuel said.

(The biggest threat to democracy is people not doing anything, when they need to do something.)

Do they have a fighting chance?

But will their efforts reach anywhere, especially that the cases they will file will still go through the government channels?

“The important thing is that we document and we file, otherwise there is a conept of prescription in law meaning if you don’t do something, you lose the right to file something,” Fajardo said. (READ: How Duterte's drug war has affected rich users)

He added: “If there are obstacles towards that, initially at the city prosecutor or provincial prosecutor, there are processes that you can continue doing. If you sense it is backed up by evidence, eventually there will be a reversal, there will be a modification, to really give someone access to justice. Otherwise, you reinforce the notion that we cannot do anything about it.”

Fajardo said they call on the judicial branch of the government to objectively look at the situation. The judicial branch is independent from the executive branch. –

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.