De Lima presses for Senate probe on attacks vs lawyers

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has pressed anew for a Senate inquiry into the continued spate of violent attacks against members of the legal profession and the justice sector officials which were not given due attention by the Duterte administration.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 1031, De Lima lamented that the roll of lawyers is rapidly transforming into a long list of names of casualties caught in the middle of the administration’s bloody war on drugs.

“While initially hunting down drug users and drug lords, the killings would spread across sectors – with one pillar of defense after another being toppled down in brazen impunity,” she said.

“This escalating and alarming trend and spate of attacks and killings of members of the Bar makes it imperative for the government and law authorities and institutions to conduct a thorough investigation and ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice,” she added.

For the fake drug war to succeed, De Lima recalled how the Duterte government targeted the threats to its reign, including the free press, the Catholic church and the priests, the human rights defenders and advocates, among others.

“It would not take long before the equation is completed: attack the last standing stronghold – that once destroyed could give the war on drugs the go-signal for overdrive; those who vowed to uphold, defend and protect the rule of law: the lawyers, prosecutors and judges,” she said.

In highlighting the recent spate of killings against members of the legal profession, the former justice secretary cited particular cases of attacks against lawyers, showing how their safety was threatened while discharging their duties

The victims include, among others, Atty. Rex Jasper Lopoz, then representative of accused in drug cases, who was killed by unidentified gunmen last March 13; human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos who was killed by riding-in-tandem assailants last November 6, 2018; and environmental lawyer Atty. Mia Manuelita Mascarinas-Green who was shot dead by four motorcycle-riding gunmen in the view and presence of her children last February 15, 2017.

Lopoz was said to be the 38th lawyer who has been murdered since Mr. Duterte assumed presidency in 2016, records from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed.

In filing SR No. 1031, De Lima said it is important “to provide adequate measures to address and ensure the personal and professional safety of Filipino lawyers and to effectively prevent any further attacks on their independence and security.”

De Lima, a lawyer by profession, also noted that the targeted and systematic attacks against the members of the legal profession is detrimental not only to the lawyers but also to defendants who run towards them for relief

Citing a statement from the HRW, De Lima said, “[b]y silencing a lawyer, many victims are also silenced. But then perhaps that is the purpose.”

In March 2018, De Lima filed Senate Bill No. 1721 seeking to protect the members of the legal profession and the justice sector officials by increasing penalty against crimes committed against them. A month after, she filed SR No. 668 seeking to look into the recent spate of killings and attacks against members of the legal profession especially those lawyers who are handling high-profile cases.

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