Supreme Court of the Philippines

‘Lawyers should strike’ to demand Supreme Court actions vs abuses

Lian Buan

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‘Lawyers should strike’ to demand Supreme Court actions vs abuses
The legal profession is now faced with an 'existential crisis,' says Professor Tony La Viña

Lawyers should now go on strike to demand concrete actions from the government, particularly the Supreme Court, to address killings in the legal profession and other abuses, a human rights lawyer said on Tuesday, March 9.

“We shall all actually go on strike and I am willing to do that,” lawyer Evalyn Ursua said in a news conference on Tuesday hosted by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

The conference featured the counsels of anti-terror law petitioners, with a statement signed by former Supreme Court justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales. (Carpio and Carpio Morales were not in the conference.)

“We call on all members of the legal profession to condemn the continuing attacks against lawyers and judges, including attacks against petitioners and their counsel in the ATA petitions,” said the statement.

“We urge members of the legal profession and various law groups to launch a more active response to these attacks including complaints in United Nations (UN) mechanisms against these attacks,” the statement added.

Rappler has tallied at least 56 lawyers killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office, but some groups such as the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) has pegged the number at 61.

Ursua said that in the ’80s, there were only a few killings yet there were already calls for stronger actions.

“Sa ngayon ang sinasabi at least 54 recorded killings na wala pang naso-solve, ‘yun ang masaklap dun, wala pang nakukulong, pero hindi pa umaalsa ang legal profession. Agree ako dapat tipping point na ito,” said Ursua.

(Right now they’re saying at least 54 recorded killings that remain unsolved, and that’s what’s so bad about it, no one has been jailed, yet the legal profession is still not on strike. I agree, this should be the tipping point.)

Professor Tony La Viña described the situation as an “existential crisis.”

The last lawyers march in the country was in 2006 when the IBP led a march to EDSA shrine to condemn Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1017, seen then as a crackdown on dissent.

Among the people who marched then were former vice president Jejomar Binay, progressive lawyer Neri Colmenares, and former IBP national president Jose Anselmo Cadiz, all of whom are involved in the anti-terror law petitions, either as counsel or petitioner.

Role of the Supreme Court

 The lawyers in their statement said the first thing that the Supreme Court can do is issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the anti-terror law.

“The issuance of a TRO on the enforcement of the ATA pending the final adjudication of the 37 petitions could help address the worsening situation,” said the statement.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said an anti-terror law TRO would “de-escalate the situation.”

FLAG said the Supreme Court can inquire from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Philippine National Police about the status of the investigations into the killings, and make information available to the public.

“The Supreme Court has the legal as well as the moral mandate and authority to protect its own officers from these threats, which have been brought to their attention through several motions. If the Court will not protect its own, no one will,” said FLAG.

The Supreme Court and the Department of Justice (DOJ) had been holding dialogues with the IBP leadership to address the lawyer killings. But it only started in January 2021 when 55 lawyers had already been killed.

A day after the SC and DOJ held meetings, the 56th lawyer was shot dead.

Data from the DOJ showed that of the 56 killings, only 5 cases have reached the courts, with the rest of the killings not having data in the prosecution docket. The DOJ assumes no suspect has been identified for the rest. –

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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.