Robredo condemns arrest of lawyers: ‘Alarming erosion of rule of law’

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo denounced the arrest last week of 3 lawyers who were monitoring a police search of a raided bar in Makati City. 

The Vice President said the Makati police’s detention of lawyers Jan Vincent Sambrano Soliven, Lenie Rocel Elmido Rocha, and Romulo Bernard Bustamante Alarkon is “an issue that concerns not just the legal community but every Filipino.” 

“That some members of our police force now feel that they can brush aside claims to legal rights and due process, and bully and intimidate those asserting them – even if they are lawyers performing their duties, and thus, clothed with authority as officers of the court – through verbal harangues, physical restraint, and the threat of subsequent criminal liability, is indicative of an alarming erosion of constitutional protections and the rule of law,” said Robredo.

The Vice President, who is also a lawyer, wondered what are the implications of the incident on other Filipinos, especially those who are less informed about their rights.

“If even lawyers, fully educated on their constitutional rights and trained to assert them, can be treated with such official disdain, then we can only imagine how much worse less informed, less empowered Filipinos will fare when subjected to abusive behavior by agents of government,” said Robredo. 

What happened?  On August 16, Makati City police detained the 3 lawyers for alleged "obstruction of justice" during a search and inventory of the Time in Manila bar. (WATCH: Videos of arrest)

The cops first raided the bar on August 11 for allegedly selling party drugs to customers.

Desierto & Desierto law firm, which represents one of the bar owners, said the 3 lawyers were merely taking down notes and photos of the police inventory.

But Southern Police District head Chief Superintendent Tomas Apolinario claimed the lawyers "harassed" the cops.

The lawyers were released from police custody on August 17.

Did the lawyers commit obstruction of justice? Robredo does not think so. 

“It must be made clear: a citizen’s legal and constitutional rights, whether asserted directly or through lawyers, can be invoked at any time, in any venue, and not just in court as the statements of several PNP officials would seem to imply,” said the Vice President. 

She added that the 1987 Constitution’s Bill of Rights serves as a "constant shield against official abuse."

“It is not a document that is of concern only for lawyers and courts, but for every citizen, in every interaction with government,” said Robredo.

She urged other members of the Philippine bar “to continue condemning” the arrest of Rocha, Soliven, and Alarkon.  

Like Robredo, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Free Legal Assistance Group have denounced the arrest. 

The Commission on Human Rights has also launched its own probe into the matter. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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