MANILA, Philippines (AP) The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday condemned the alarming number of murders and threats against lawyers and judges. A legal group has said these attacks are significantly higher under President Rodrigo Duterte compared to the past 50 years under six former presidents.
The 15-member high court asked lower courts, law enforcement agencies and lawyers and groups of judges to provide information about such attacks in the last 10 years, so that the court can take preliminary steps. The attacks, she said, endanger the rule of law in an Asian bastion of democracy.
Threatening our judges and lawyers is no less than an attack on the judiciary. Attacking the judiciary means shaking the foundation on which the rule of law rests, the high court said in a rare censorship, with strong forms of attacks. This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours.
The court said it would not tolerate acts that only distort justice, undermine the rule of law, undermine the most fundamental principles of the constitution and speculate on the value of human life.
The Free Legal Aid Group, a prominent group of lawyers, said at least 61 lawyers had been killed in the five years of Duterte’s presidency, compared to at least 25 lawyers and judges killed under six presidents since 1972, when dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines under martial law.
Advocacy groups said the court denunciation was delayed, but welcomed it nonetheless. We have been listening to clear calls and providing concrete information and recommendations for the longest time, said lawyer Edre Olalia, who heads the National Union of Left-wing People’s Advocates.
A number of lawyers representing suspected drug dealers or being involved in the illicit drug trade were among those killed under Duterte’s rule. When he took office in mid-2016, Duterte launched a massive anti-drug crackdown that left more than 6,000 mostly minor suspects dead and alerted Western governments and human rights groups.
Duterte, a former government prosecutor who talks a lot, has denied ordering the murders of drug suspects, but has repeatedly threatened the suspects with death and ordered law enforcement to shoot the suspects who threaten them. Military and police officers are also suspected of carrying out the attacks and threatening lawyers and judges perceived as supporters of communist guerrillas.
Earlier this month, national police fired central intelligence chief Calbayog after he asked a local court for a list of lawyers representing the captured rebels. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the intelligence chief’s actions were completely devoid of any legal or legal basis.
Last week, a broadcaster appeared along a busy intersection in the Manila metropolis, thanking a court judge for the release of a journalist and a union leader linked to communist rebels. It was unclear who placed the broadcaster, which bore the logo of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
We are aware that there are pious elements who, in their zeal to do what they think is necessary, will simply set aside the limitations in our law as mere obstacles, the Supreme Court said.
The court said it would work on rules on the use of body cameras for law enforcement members serving search and arrest warrants. Many suspected drug dealers and insurgents have been killed in recent years after law enforcement claimed they violently resisted serving such orders. Activists have questioned the allegations, citing appalling human and military human rights record data.
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