MORE lawyers have been killed in nearly five years of the Duterte administration compared to previous presidents, including that of strongman Ferdinand Marcos, the Free Legal Assistance Group said.
Data released by the group said 61 lawyers have been killed since June 2016 compared to the 28 since 1972 during the Marcos dictatorship up to the end of the administration of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno “Noynoy”Aquino III.
The National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) listed 54 lawyers killed since 2016.
The FLAG list showed that from 1972 to 1986, seven lawyers were either killed or disappeared while nine suffered the same fate during the term of the late president Corazon Aquino.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra distanced Duterte from the high number of lawyers who have been killed during his presidency, saying that Duterte, being a lawyer himself, would not have policies that would hurt his fellow lawyers.
“It’s so difficult for me to relate the number of deaths and make a comparison depending on who is the president of the Philippines. The President himself is a lawyer… do you think he will have a policy that, or will be something that will put his fellow members of the legal profession in personal jeopardy or something to that effect? I don’t think so,” Guevarra said in a mix of English and Filipino,
He added that the deaths happened “because of circumstances prevailing, not because of whoever is the head of the present administration.”
The President in the past had warned lawyers representing drug suspects that he would include them in his drug war. Last year, the government said human rights lawyers do not need the government’s protection because there was no extrajudicial killing against them.
No recorded killing of lawyers took place during the presidency of Fidel Ramos from 1992 to 1998, while two were killed during the short-lived presidency of Joseph Estrada from 1998 to 2001.
During the term of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, nine lawyers were killed while one suffered the same fate during Noynoy Aquino’s presidency.
Last week, an intelligence unit of the Calbayog City police asked a local court to provide them with a list of lawyers representing supposed members of “communist terrorist groups.” The request was reportedly withdrawn.
Guevarra said the incident in Calbayog is “isolated” and no other police unit in the country has similar practices or requests made.
He said the PNP had declared the actions of the Calbayog police as “improper” and sanctions have already been issued against the officers concerned.
Guevarra said the government has been talking to lawyer groups since January due to the spate of killings and the Department of Justice has started creating an inventory of cases related to violence against lawyers. – With Jocelyn Montemayor