On September 14, 2023, lawyer Maria Saniata Liwliwa Alzate was shot in broad daylight in her parked car in Bangued town, Abra province, by unidentified assailants on a passing motorbike. The perpetrators managed to flee. Alzate succumbed to her gunshot wounds in hospital and died. The lawyer was helping clients who had been illegally detained during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called “war on drugs.” Alzate is the third lawyer who was killed during the current Marcos administration.
According to documentation from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), a total of 113 lawyers were murdered since 1972, 61 of whom died under the administration of former President Duterte. Lawyers are a “bridge for citizens to the justice system,” explained Kristina Konti, the NUPL General Secretary. Moreover, Konti said, “killing lawyers tells the general public that what you cannot win by reason, you can win by violence.” In 2021, the Supreme Court issued a statement interpreting the threat to lawyers as an attack on the judiciary and thus on the foundation of the rule of law.
Two weeks after Alzate’s murder, Jude Thaddeus Fernandez, a Kilusang Mayo Uni (KMU) unionist, was shot dead by Philippine National Police (PNP) and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) security forces in Rizal province on September 29, 2023. The PNP-CIDG task force raided Fernandez’s house without a search warrant. The state security forces justified the use of their firearms on the grounds of self-defence (“Nanlaban” narrative) since Fernandez allegedly fired first at the PNP-CIDG. However, the KMU stated that Fernandez, as a trade unionist, had not been in possession of firearms. According to KMU documentation, 72 workers and trade unionists have already been murdered in the Philippines since 2016.
Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, sees the core problem in impunity that makes murders like Fernandez’s possible. Lau calls for stronger international pressure: “Foreign governments that value the Philippines as a trade partner should send a clear message to the Marcos administration that these abuses need to stop.”
Photo © Raffy Lerma