De Lima pushes to raise penalty for crimes vs lawyers

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure seeking to protect the members of the legal profession and the justice sector officials by increasing penalty against crimes committed against them.

De Lima filed Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1721 amending Article 14 of the Revised Penal Code, adding as an aggravating circumstance the crime committed against lawyers and justice sector officials.

“The courts and the lawyers are the ones tasked to ensure that justice is done. In the process, they place themselves in harm’s way against people who mean to subvert justice,” she said.

In filing the proposed measure, De Lima highlighted the recent spate of killings against members of the legal profession as she cited particular cases involving the killings of lawyers who were handling high-profile cases.

Among these were the killings of Atty. Jonah John Ungab after attending hearings at the Cebu City Hall of Justice, including the case of his client, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa Jr., last Feb. 19 and Atty. Rogelio Bato, lawyer of Mayor Rolando Espinosa and Espinosa Jr., during an ambush in Albuera, Leyte in August 2016.

“The spate of killings against members of the legal profession should call our government to action to send a clear message against offenders who specifically target lawyers and court officials,” she explained.

As such, De Lima proposed under Section 1, Article 14 of the RPC that “the crime [c]ommitted against the person or property of lawyers and justice sector officials, in fulfillment of their duty or in their lawful exercise of a right or office” should be considered as aggravating circumstances.

De Lima, a lawyer by profession, pointed out that the attacks against lawyers and justice sector officials are obvious attacks against the legal profession and the judicial system.

“Attacks against legal professionals, as in the case of human defenders, journalists and activists, continue to be common practice because suspects are rarely caught,” she said, noting that various human rights groups and lawyer organizations have raised alarm against harassment and murder against their colleagues.

“There is a clear need to amend existing law to establish a clear government policy to protect our justice system and the persons tasked to administer justice,” she added.

According to a report from Alternative Law Journal, 114 legal professionals were killed between January 1, 1999 and October 2014 – four of which were judges while eight were prosecutors, and the rest were lawyers.

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