(Photos) Initial Findings of the International Verification and Fact-finding Mission on Attacks against Filipino lawyers and judges

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Initial Findings of the International Verification

and Fact-finding Mission on Attacks against Filipino lawyers and judges

By 8 Dutch and Belgian judges and lawyers

from Stichting Advocaten voor Advocaten

(Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation)

November 12, 2008

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Initial Findings of the International Verification & Fact Finding Mission 2008

1. Contrary to 2006, the profession related killings of lawyers and judges (hereinafter ‘these killings’) are acknowledged as a serious problem.

2. Although the number of these killings has declined, they still occur; it must be emphasized that every killing is one to much.

3. The number of and the reasons for this decline are not undisputed.

4. Intimidation continues as of today. We observed that among lawyers and judges feelings of fear and insecurity still exist: (death) threats and other forms of harassments, including fabricated charges, were mentioned.

5. The Philippine government claims to have taken firm measures to address the problem of extrajudicial killings. Indeed it has established various Task Forces. Human rights awareness programs were also issued, which must be welcomed. Nevertheless, they have not led to visible results.

6. Apparently only one (1) person has been convicted for these killings and that was in 2006. So impunity still seems to exist.

7. We observed a lack of trust among lawyers, judges, their relatives and civil society organizations as to whether the government is sincere in addressing the problem of these killings. Solving this problem clearly needs broad support of all layers in society.

8. In the cases we investigated in 2006, little or no progress has been made so far.

9. As regard to the way of investigating or prosecuting these killings, there seems to be little or no coordination between the various Task Forces and agencies concerned; for instance, different data were seen in their presentations.

10. The Melo Commission stated that ‘the circumstances clearly show that such killings (….) is pursuant to an orchestrated plan by group or sector with an interest in eliminating the victims (..)’. The governmental measures merely focus on protection and security of lawyers and judges, where they should also address the underlying causes.

11. The willingness to investigate upon serious allegations of involvement of state agents in these killings is still lacking by the governmental authorities concerned. In addition, this would increase their credibility. ►

12. We observed that according to the ruling opinion the principle of command responsibility cannot be used in criminal cases.

13. We welcome the initiative of the Supreme Court to introduce the Writ of Amparo. It is broadly supported.

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D.D. 12 NOVEMBER 2008

In June 2006, the Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation (L4L) organized an International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM) on the attacks against Filipino lawyers and judges. Amongst other things, it concluded that Filipino lawyers and judges were threatened, harassed or even killed while carrying out their legal profession.

Since then, we have been aware of various developments in the Philippines. The Melo Commission was installed and reported its findings in the beginning of 2007. The Philippine government claims that it has followed up the Melo Commissions’ recommendations and has taken other measures to address the killings.

However, international and Philippine civil society organizations claim that the reality remains that the killings, threats and harassment of persons involved in social activism, including lawyers and judges, still continue.

In view of the above, L4L organized a follow up Verification & Fact Finding Mission (IVFFM) in order to:

(a) verify the status of cases of harassed or killed lawyers and judges investigated by the IFFM in June 2006;

(b) verify and collect as many findings as possible regarding several new cases of threats, harassment and killings of human rights lawyers and judges as well as the (lack of) reaction thereto by the competent Philippine authorities;

(c) verify and collect as many findings as possible regarding the effectiveness of the measures the Philippine government claims to have taken to address the problem of extrajudicial killings, and

(d) inform the appropriate Philippine authorities and the international community, more specifically any national and international lawyers organization about these findings.

So far, the IVFFM has interviewed lawyers and judges facing threats, relatives of killed lawyers and judges, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, representatives of various state agencies concerned such as PNP, Task Force USIG, NBI, IALAG, DILG, civil society organizations and the CHRP. In addition, interviews are scheduled with the Ombudsman and a representative of DoJ.

Today, the IVFFM will only presents its initial findings. A full report with its conclusions and recommendations will follow in due course.

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11 NOVEMBER 2008

Inclusion of lawyers in military’s order of battle, red

A group of lawyers condemned the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) and the Arroyo government for listing lawyers in the military’s order of battle.

Based on the own monitoring and documentation of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) from 2001 to 2008, there were 15 lawyers and two lawyers’ groups who have either been told they are included in the military’s order of battle (OB) or have been openly labeled as rebels. Two of the 15 have already been killed.

Atty. Norman Bocar was gunned down, September 1, 2005, in Borongan, Eastern Samar. He was among those listed in the OB called Oplan Ligpit (Operation Plan Exterminate) of the 8th Infantry Division.

Atty. Juvy Magsino was shot dead on February 13, 2004 in ,
Naujan, Mindoro Oriental. In 2002, then Col. Jovito Palparan Jr. of the 2nd nfantry Division of the Philippine Army labeled Atty. Magsino as a communist and supporter of the New People’s Army (NPA). Palparan even told the media that the Army would be monitoring Atty. Magsino.

Atty. Remigio Saladero, legal counsel of labor group
Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) has been charged with false criminal charges in relation to two incidents of raid by the New People’s Army (NPA). Saladero has been labeled as a member of the NPA; the military said his supposed nom de guerre is Ka Patrick. He is detained at the Calapan City District Jail.

In 2004, Judge Romeo Capulong also became a subject of
black propaganda and demonization campaign of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP). He was then serving as the counsel for the striking workers of the huge farmland Hacienda Luisita. In the AFP publications “Trinity of War,” “Part III: Overview of Hacienda Luisita Incidents and Other Significant Events,” and powerpoint presentation “Knowing the Enemy,” Judge Capulong, with the PILC, was made out as a tool of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), NPA and National Democratic Front (NDF) purportedly in order to bring the issues
concerning the Hacienda Luisita to an international level.

On January 24, 2005, in a command conference at Camp Macabulos in Tarlac, then Philippine Army Northern Luzon Command Chief Lt. Romeo Dominguez told the national security adviser and the presidential chief of staff that militant groups such as Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela,under the leadership of Judge Capulong and Tarlac City Council Abelardo Ladera, were the cause of the turmoil at the Hacienda Luisita. Ladera was later killed on March 3, 2005.

Neri Javier Colmenares, secretary general of the NUPL, was
himself a victim of labeling. In 2005, Colmenares has been informed by a colleague working in government that he was included in the OB. In the same year, the long-defunct Protestant Lawyers League of the Philippines (PLLP) and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) were among the organizations listed by the military in the security briefing titled “Knowing the Enemy” as an “enemies of the state.”

In July 2006, Attys. Colmenares, Edre Olalia Ingrid Gorre
and other CODAL convenors were falsely linked to the underground movement by members of the PNP’s Task Force Usig. The incident happened during and after an international fact-finding mission on attacks on Filipino lawyers and judges hosted by CODAL.
Meanwhile, sometime in November 2006, Atty. Emil Bermas
found a letter inserted at the gate of his residence, requiring him to attend a workshop so that his name would be deleted in the military’s order of battle.

On October 6, 2006, around 9 a.m., Atty. Robert Tudayan
received an anonymous letter. When he opened the envelope, he saw a black ribbon inside.

Before the incident, on the last week of September, Atty.
Tudayan was labeled as a lawyer for the NPA by elements of the 50th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in a forum conducted at Barangay (village) Burobor, Galimuyod, Ilocos Sur. In separate incidents from 2001 to 2008, human rights lawyers Jobert Pahilga, Tirsendo Poloyapoy, Pergentino Deri-on, Tonyboy Azarcon, Ernesto Peñaflor and David Erro were also labeled as members of the NPA.

Atty. Harry Roque received text messages on January 3, 2007 labeling him as a lawyer of the “communist terrorist group in the Philippines.”
Colmenares said,”Such labeling puts our lives in danger. Two of our colleagues who had been in the military’s OB have been killed and so are the many victims of extrajudicial killings in the country.”

Colmenares said the Arroyo government did not heed one of the most important recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston. In his final report, Alston said, “The Government should immediately direct all military officers to cease making public statements linking political or other civil society groups to those

engaged in armed insurgencies…They must be based on transparent criteria, and conform with the human rights provisions of the Constitution and relevant treaties.” Alston also said that transparency must be introduced to the “orders of battle”, “watch lists”, and similar list of individuals and organizations maintained by the AFP, PNP, and other elements of the national security system.

These forms of attacks on lawyers, said Colmenares, prove
that the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency program targets civilians, including lawyers who are defenders of human rights. The NUPL, together with CODAL, is hosting the Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation’s International Verification and Fact-Finding Mission (IVFFM) on the Attacks against Filipino Lawyers and Judges. The 9-day Mission of Dutch and Belgian judges and lawyers will culminate tomorrow, November 12, 2008, at which time the delegation intends to come up with a statement at a press statement in the morning.#

Reference:Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares – 0918350459

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Press Statement
November 11, 2008

Lawyers’ group denounces attempted slay of Negros
Judge; Asks that IALAG be abolished as recommended by UN Special Rapporteur Alston and vows to raise anew attacks to the UN

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) strongly condemned the recent attack on a Regional Trial Court judge in Negros Oriental and the killing of his security aid. The attack only confirms the need for the Arroyo government to take immediate measures to punish the perpetrators rather than imposing on the judges the burden of protecting themselves.

There is now a renewed need to raise the issue of the escalation of attacks and harassment of judges and lawyers and the inability of the Philippine government to prosecute the perpetrators to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

According to news reports, Judge Mario Trinidad of the RTC Branch 64 was ambushed Nov. 8 by unidentified armed men in Guihulngan City. Trinidad was wounded but his security escort was killed.

Neri Javier Colmenares, NUPL secretary general, said, “We condemn the frustrated attempt on the life of Judge Trinidad including the killing of his security aid. This recent attack shows that perpetrators of extra-judicial killings are not afraid of punishment. They have been emboldened by the Arroyo government’s failure to curb impunity in the country.”

Fifteen judges and 22 lawyers have been murdered since 2001.
The recent arrest of labor and human rights lawyer Atty. Ming Saladero on trumped up charges of multiple murder and arson is another example in the list of attacks and harassment suffered by progressive peoples lawyers by the Arroyo government. Worse, Atty Saladero was prosecuted by a government which is unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks against lawyers. Many of the cases of killings of judges and lawyers are in a deadend, the real perpetrators still to be held to account for their crimes.

The continuing impunity with which these attacks continue only highlights the need for the intervention of UN bodies to hold the Arroyo government to account for its failure to curb impunity in the country and provide for the protection of judges and lawyers. The NUPL will prepare a complaint before Leandro Despouy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. The NUPL will follow-up again the long standing request of the UN special rapporteur to the Philippine government to make an official visit and fact finding mission in the country on these attacks.

Colmenares further said that the Arroyo government continues to ignore important recommendations by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston.

Alston’s recommendations include the abolition of the
Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG). In his final report, Alston
maintained that the reason that such an ad hoc mechanism was established for bringing charges against members of these civil society organizations and party list groups is that they have seldom committed any obvious criminal offence.

He said, “IALAG should be abolished, and the criminal justice system should refocus on investigating and prosecuting those committing extrajudicial executions and other serious crimes.”

“IALAG should have been gone by now if only the Arroyo government were serious in putting an end to rights violations. The
continuing existence of this body only shows that the Arroyo government’s skewed sense of justice remains in place,” Colmenares said.#

The NUPL is currently hosting an international fact finding mission organized by the Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation to look into these attacks. The Mission is currently winding up its 9-day itinerary which includes meeting with lawyers and judges who are victims of attacks and various relevant government agencies

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The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) express its gratitude to the Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation (L4L) for its continuing concern over the attacks against lawyers and judges and the human rights situation in the country. The launching of the International Verification and Fact Finding Mission (IVFFM) has never been more timely than now, when there is a resurgence in extra judicial killings and more blatant attacks on human rights. The Arroyo government has made strong efforts to delude the international community into believing that the human rights condition in the country is improving, and the holding of an objective and independent international fact finding mission will expose the contrary reality—that the human rights situation is deteriorating. In fact, extra judicial killings are once again on the rise, and attacks on human rights defenders through the filing of harassment cases and trumped-up criminal charges has increased.
Continuing attacks and human rights violations

The attacks against lawyers and judges continue two years after the 2006 first International Fact Finding Mission concluded that “ The primary duty of the Government is to protect the life of the people, including lawyers and judges. The Arroyo administration, however, has hardly done anything to address the extrajudicial killings effectively.”

There was a sharp 68% increase in the killing of lawyers since 2001 from fifteen in 2006 to twenty-two lawyers brutally murdered by 2008. Six of the 22 lawyers killed are human rights lawyers. There was a 66% increase in the killing of judges from ten in 2006 to a total of fifteen judges killed by 2008 the latest of which is Judge Navidad in Samar.

The attacks and harassment of lawyers also escalated, the latest of which is the abduction, detention and the filing of trumped-up harassment suit against labor and peoples’ lawyer Atty. Remigio “Ming” Saladero Jr. Atty. Ming was illegally arrested for allegedly joining the NPA in an ambush of government troops and for burning a Globe Cellcite. This is nothing more than a ridiculous trumped up charge considering that Atty. Ming is a columnist of a weekly news magazine, a high profile labor lawyer handling more than 700 cases and was in fact one of those who personally argued before the Supreme Court against the constitutionality of the repressive Calibrated Preemptive Response (CPR) policy of the Arroyo government. There is no other conclusion than that Atty. Saladero was arrested because of his human rights advocacy and scathing critique of Pres. Gloria Arroyo. The international legal and human rights community has in fact been alarmed by this brazen persecution. There were forty-nine attacks and harassment of lawyers recorded since 2001, forty-one of which were committed against human rights lawyers.

Attacks threaten the legal profession and judiciary

An attack against lawyers and judges is an attack against the legal profession itself and the independence of the judiciary, and the constitutional right of the people to access to justice because they aim to discourage lawyers from providing the people their legal services with utmost integrity and independence. Article III, Section 11 of the Constitution provides that “Free access to the courts and quasi-judicial bodies and adequate legal assistance shall not be denied to any person by reason of poverty.” These attacks only make it more difficult for the people, especially the poor and marginalized, from availing the services of human rights lawyers.

According to Paragraph 18 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the Eight United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (1990) “lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their client’s causes as a result of the discharge of their functions.” The Philippine government is required to protect lawyers under Paragraph 16 of the above Principles which declares that “governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and consult with their clients freely; (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic and other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”

The Arroyo government has not only failed to protect the lawyers and judges from the attacks but has in fact committed the attacks themselves in the case of human rights lawyers critical of the government’s human rights record.

The need for continuing international concern

The expression of concern by the international community has been a major factor in the decrease of extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances. Since practically not one of the perpetrators who committed the killings and disappearances was arrested and the machinery that perpetrated the killings remain intact, the NUPL strongly concludes that the attacks and killings will escalate again. There is therefore a need for the continuing vigilance of peoples abroad over the continuing repression and the IVFFM plays an important role in informing the international community of the human rights condition in the country.

The attacks against lawyers and judges, especially those involved in human rights legal work, will also increase as impunity further engulfs the country. The Philippines has become one of the most dangerous places for lawyers and judges in the world since there are very few countries where 37 lawyers and judges are brutally murdered in a span of 7 years, and, where the real perpetrators have not been held accountable for the crime. The NUPL will prepare a complaint before the United Nations against the failure of the Arroyo government to protect the lawyers and judges from attacks, and the Arroyo government’s actual complicity in the attacks against human rights lawyers.

The NUPL will sustain its strong representations with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Leandro Despouy to visit the Philippines after the IVFFM to conduct a UN fact finding mission on the same. We strongly urge the Arroyo government to allow the participation of the UN by officially granting the long-standing request of Mr. Despouy to visit the country without which the UN Special Rapporteur will not be able to officially conduct the fact finding mission. We strongly demand the release of Atty. Ming Saladero and for the Arroyo government to desist from attacking human rights defenders through the filing of false criminal charges.

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January 2001-November 12, 2008

Monitored and Documented by Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) (formerly Committee for the Defense of Lawyers) and the
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), Philippines

Number of Lawyers Killed 2001 to present 22
(6 of which are human rights lawyers)

Number of Judges Killed 15
Number of Paralegals, Law Students Killed 03

Number of Lawyers Attacked 49
Number of Human Rights Lawyers Attacked 41

Lawyers and judges who survived attempted slay 05
Lawyers and judges who received death threats 12
Victims of Labeling/Included in the Military’s
Order of Battle (OB) 15
Lawyers and judges under surveillance

November 4-12, 2008
Manila and Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation
(Stichting Advocaten voor Advocaten)

Hosted by
the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and
the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL)

Members of the Mission:

1. Atty. Judith Lichtenberg –Head of delegation
2. Judge Thea Gijsberts
3. Judge Nol Vermolen
4. Judge Gerrard Boot
5. Atty. Adrie van de Streek
6. Atty. Hein Karskens
7. Atty. Angela Meijer
8. Atty. Jo Dereymaeker

Lawyers, Judges or Relatives Interviewed:

1. One (1) Central Luzon lawyer
2. One (1) Metro Manila judge
3. Five (5) Metro Manila lawyers
4. One (1) Southern Tagalog judge
5. Two (2) Bicol lawyers
6. Two (2) Visayas lawyers
7. Seven (7) Mindanao lawyers

Government Offices/Officials Visited/Met:

1. Supreme Court
2. Senate Minority
3. Committee on Human Rights in the House of Representatives
4. Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)
5. National Security Agency (NSA)
6. Philippine National Police (PNP)
7. Inter-Agency Legal Assistance Group (IALAG)
8. Task Force Usig (TFU)
9. National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)
10. Commission on Human Rights (CHR)
11. Cavite Prosecutor’s Office

Non-Governmental Organisations Interviewed/Met:

1. National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
2. Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL)
3. Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (KARAPATAN)
4. Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM)
5. Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)
6. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)

Diplomatic Offices Met:

1. Royal Netherlands Embassy
2. European Union

Others still to be Interviewed/Met:

1. One (1) Visayas lawyer
2. Ombudsman
3. Department of Justice (DOJ)
4. Amnesty International (AI)
5. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)


Photo Courtesy of NUPL

Arkibong Bayan


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