Fellow lawyers have called out Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra for his “reckless” statement that danger is part of their job amid the alarming rise in killings and threats to members of the legal profession under the Duterte administration.
“It is reckless to state that risk and danger is part of the life of lawyers and judges and such is part of their profession. Ours is a profession that has no room for violence in its fight against injustice,” said the La Salle Greenhills Alumni Lawyers Association, signed by human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, among others.
The group addressed Guevarra’s remarks in a statement condemning the red-tagging of Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio, who had cleared and ordered the release journalist Lady Ann “Icy” Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago.
In an earlier Rappler Talk interview, former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te said Guevarra’s statement is “unfortunate.”
“I think that is unfortunate. Nowhere in law school are law students told lawyering is a contact sport. Lawyering involves helping people, lawyering involves giving advice to those who do not understand the law, lawyering involves teaching law students to become the best lawyers,” Te said.
“To say that lawyering is an inherently dangerous profession, I’m not sure where that comes from. Maybe I’d agree if he would say lawyering has become a dangerous profession, and then maybe I would ask, ‘Kaninong kasalanan ‘yun (Whose fault is it)?” he added.
Lawyers in the Philippines have demanded stronger government action on the unprecedented spike in killings of persons in the legal profession, which groups attribute to the climate of impunity under the Duterte administration.
Asked to react to the lawyers’ statements, Guevarra insisted that he was taken out of context. “You can check the transcript of that interview and you will see that I never said that lawyering is inherently a dangerous profession,” he said.
Guevarra was referring to his remarks during a press briefing in Malacañang on Monday, March 15, when asked if President Rodrigo Duterte is linked to the disproportionate number of lawyer killings under his term – 61 in the last 5 years compared to 49 lawyers killed from the time of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to Benigno Aquino III.
Guevarra said during the briefing, “Alam mo ‘yung trabaho ng mga lawyer, alam naman nila ‘yan (You know, lawyers know) from the beginning that their profession is fraught with danger.”
He had said that it is “difficult” to link Duterte, or any president for that matter, to killings during their watch.
“Many lawyers are representing clients, even before, who are involved in controversial cases – drug cases, terrorism cases, corruption cases, election cases, those types of cases. The nature of cases they handle really exposes lawyers to some personal risk or safety, or issues of security. It really happens,” Guevarra had told reporters in a mix of English and Filipino.
Shown this transcript, Guevarra said: “‘Inherent’ gives it a spin. There are many types of lawyering.”
“Why would I be a lawyer if that was the case? I became a lawyer to help people who need justice. All that I said essentially was that lawyering for certain cases or causes may be attended with personal risks,” he said.
“Maybe it’s the way that these statements get paraphrased by newswriters, and some people would recklessly comment without understanding the context,” Guevarra added.
Here’s the full video of Guevarra’s remarks on lawyers’ killings during the Malacañang briefing: