According to the Philippine National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), 59 lawyers were killed during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in office (2016-2022). The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, speaks in his April 2022 report of 85 Philippine legal professionals, who were killed since 2016. According to the NUPL, only a low rate of murders was resolved, which in turn indicates a high level of impunity.
Lawyers face similar threats as journalists and other media workers in the Philippines. In March 2021, the Philippine Supreme Court condemned the killings of lawyers and emphasized its intention to provide more protection to lawyers under threat. Many of the killed lawyers represented left-wing activists or victims of human rights abuses in the so-called “war on drugs” under the government of former President Duterte. The UN Special Rapporteur also cites the practice of “red-tagging” (meaning the accusation of supporting the armed communist insurgency) as a reason for the higher rate of criminalization and murder of lawyers in the Philippines.
The health status of opposition politician Leila De Lima, who has been imprisoned since 2017, is also of concern. On November 7, 2022, she announced that she was tested positive with COVID-19, but that she was doing well. On October 9, De Lima was briefly taken hostage by three prison inmates while they were attempting to break out of Camp Crame prison; the three inmates were shot dead by the police. With acute chest pain and elevated hypertension, De Lima was treated under security at the Philippine National Police General Hospital a day later, on October 10.
Edcel Lagman, leader of the Liberal Party and congressman in Albay province, said on October 12, 2022, that the case of Leila De Lima, who has been detained for a long time, was under the “control and supervision” of President Marcos Jr. Prosecutors in the Philippines report to the Department of Justice (DOJ) who report to the executive branch. Since there is no longer sufficient evidence against De Lima, after witnesses have withdrawn their testimonies, and no danger of absconding in her case, Marcos can request the dismissal of her criminal case, Lagman stressed.
In a letter from October 13, 2022, U.S. politicians also called on the DOJ to put an end to the prosecution of Senator De Lima and conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the circumstances. Marcos responded to these calls on October 14, saying he trusts the courts’ process. The day before, De Lima had addressed her request for release directly to President Marcos: “You can reverse the grievous wrongs inflicted on me by your predecessor.” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla stressed in this regard that it was possible to drop the charges against De Lima “if it’s the recourse.”
Photo © Raffy Lerma