extrajudicial killings


John Molo

Illustration by DR Castuciano

'As the light of the rule of law waned, so did the protection of its avatars begin to falter'

Sixty-one.* As of this writing, that is the number. And the worst part is having to write “as of this writing” to qualify it. Previously, I wrote about this silent epidemic stalking our lawyers and judges. That was November 2020. The number then was 52. 9 more killed in just four months. 

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) published a study last week that tracked lawyer killings over the decades. This part was particularly telling:  

More lawyers have been killed in the past 5 years than in all of the past presidents’ terms combined. There is a phrase in law used to describe something like this: res ipsa loquitor. The thing speaks for itself. 

Yes, lawyers have been killed during other presidents’ terms. But how many, and at what rate? The irony is that under President Fidel V. Ramos, a former general, the number was zero. 

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Sixty-one of us are dead. To say that lawyering is an “inherently dangerous profession” concedes that violence is part of the practice of law. However, the core of lawyering is to counsel, advocate, and at times to defend. These are not “inherently dangerous” activities.

We should not forget that the rule of law grew from historical wisdom, that the more people talk, the less they fight, the less they kill. To remain a viable alternative to violence, the law itself can’t normalize violence. Still, if one insists that lawyering is now a dangerous craft, then former SC spokesperson Ted Te has an excellent response: “And who made it so?”   

Sixty-one. The number is inescapable. But, they say, the President didn’t carry the gun, didn’t load it, didn’t fire it. True. But each time he said, “Kill them all,” and “Unahan ‘nyo na,” he created and enabled the environment that made 61 lawyer deaths possible.

The Constitution does not have an “off” switch. It connects us all. If we weaken its protections to one sector (“drug addicts,” “bayarang media,” “oligarchs,” “communists”), we weaken its protection for ourselves. 

Sixty-one in 5 years. How did we get here? By normalizing 5,000 EJKs, we made 61 dead lawyers possible. In the wisdom of Brandeis: “Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” (Olmstead v. US).

There was nothing more self-destructive to our profession than to look away as thousands were killed in a manner that the DOJ itself now reports to the UN as irregular “in more than half” of the time. And as the light of the rule of law waned, so did the protection of its avatars begin to falter. What came next is both logical, poetic, and as a friend described it – simply “Shakespearean.”

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Sixty-one is not just a number. They were officers of the Court, and members of the Bench. And here are their names: 

Rogelio Bato Jr.; Allen Evasan; Melver Tolentino; Honorato Mazo; Rolando Acido; Arlan Castaneda; Jemar Apada; Goering Paderang Sr.; Gerik Paderanga; Johanne Noel Mingoa; Victor Canoy; Mia Mascariñas Green; Diosdado Azarcon; Elmer Mitra Jr.; Dolores Yumol; Maria Ronatay; Godofredo Abul Jr.; Hermie Aban; Pablito Gahol; Reymund Luna; Expectacion Baldeo; Jonah John Ungab; Henry Joseph Herrera; Ramy Tagnong; Rogelio Velasco; Geronimo Marave Jr.; Madonna Joy Ednaco Tanyag; Ricky Begino; Joey Galit; Salvador Solima; Rafael Atutubo; Connie Villamor; Edeljulio Romero; Randel Villaruz; Edmundo Pintac; Benjamin Ramos; Nasser Laban; Rodel Batocabe; Mary Anne Castro; Rex Jasper Lopoz; Charmaine Mejia; Reymar Lacaya; Adilberto Golla Jr.; Val Crisostomo; Anthony Trinidad; Nicolas Gomez; Ireneo Cabugoy; Exequil Dagala; Mario Anacleto Bañez; Edgar Mendoza; Raymond Moncada; Anselmo Carlos; Fredric Santos; Bayani Dalangin; Jovencio Senados; Normandie Pizarro; Maria Teresa Abadilla; Eric Jay Magcamit; Joey Luis Wee; Baby Maria Concepcion Landero-Ole; Winston Intong.

They are daughters, sons, mothers, and fathers. They are loving husbands and uncles. Caring aunts and wives. They are our brothers and sisters in the profession. They are our brethren in the judiciary. And their violent deaths are a continuing affront to the rule of law.

Sixty-one. We hope it ends there. But hoping doesn’t make it so. A viral post recently showed a banner that glibly “thanked” Judge Monique Quisumbing Ignacio for quashing (nullified) a warrant that led to a red-tagged journalist’s incarceration. With the logo of the communist movement prominently placed under her picture, the message is not lost. And when judges are publicly threatened just for doing their job, the Bar and the Bench look up to its leaders to mark a clear path back to sanity. Because in this climate, time is a luxury those on the legal frontlines do not have. 

Today is March 2021. And the number is 61. – Rappler.com

John Molo is a commercial law litigator who enjoys reading and learning about the Constitution and its intersection with politics. He teaches Constitutional Law at UP Law-BGC, where he also chairs the Political Law Cluster of the Faculty. He is the President of the Harvard Law School Association of the Philippines, and a past Chairman of the IBP Law Journal. He led the team that sued the Aquino administration and invalidated the PDAF.

*FLAG’s tally is at 61, Rappler’s is at 56, and NUPL’s is at 54. The main difference in numbers is due to classification, as some of the lawyers killed were more actively practicing another profession at the time of their death and were not included in some counts.

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