Rights lawyers seek protection from high court amid harassment, red baiting

Members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) file a petition for writ of amparo and habeas data before the Supreme Court today, April 15. (Photo courtesy of NUPL)

“The Honorable Court cannot sit idly by and allow state forces and their agents dictate how law ought to be practiced and eliminate lawyers who chose to represent the marginalized from the face of this land,” the petition read.


MANILA — Amid recent violence, harassment, threats and red baiting against its members, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) filed a petition for writs of amparo and habeas data with the Supreme Court this afternoon.

Named respondents were President Rodrigo Duterte as commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., Deputy Commander for Intelligence of the AFP Brig. Gen. Fernando T. Trinidad, Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) Chief Maj. Gen. Erwin Neri, Philippine Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Macairog Sabiniano Alberto and AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr.

The NUPL seeks the protection of its members “whose rights to life, liberty and security have been violated and continue to be violated through persistent threats and harassment, and red tagging clearly intended to vilify and intimidate them and prevent them from pursuing their profession as members of the bar and from practicing their advocacy as peoples’ lawyers serving the poor and the marginalized.”

The group said that some of their members have been killed in the line of duty.

The NUPL has also asked the high court to compel the respondents, under the Writ of Habeas Data, to produce and, if necessary, to update and rectify, or to suppress and destroy, data, information, and files in their possession, under their control, or contained in their data base which relate to or concern them.

“The Honorable Court cannot sit idly by and allow state forces and their agents dictate how law ought to be practiced and eliminate lawyers who chose to represent the marginalized from the face of this land,” the petition read.

Attacks against lawyers

In its petition, the NUPL stated that under the Duterte administration, at least 36 lawyers have been killed from July 1, 2016 to January 2, 2019. One of the victims, Benjamin Ramos, was an active NUPL member who served as lawyer for the seven massacred farmers in Sagay, Negros Occidental.

The group also noted that attacks on lawyers and other members of the legal profession, particularly on those involved in the handling of illegal drugs and human rights cases, have significantly increased Duterte assumed office. From July 1, 2016 to present, 55 lawyers have been attacked and threatened due to their work or practice of the profession.

The NUPL also cited the red tagging by Parlade in April this year linking the NUPL and other organizations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

The NUPL said that Parlade’s recent pronouncement openly and maliciously linking NUPL to the CPP/NPA further endangers the life, security and liberty of their members.

“The labeling and vilification against Petitioners particularly by respondent Parlade is not only vicious and unmitigated. It is unrelenting and continuous as he goes to town with reckless impunity,” the petition read.

The NUPL also cited posters and leaflets being circulated by suspected state agents tagging their members in Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon, Iloilo, Negros and Isabela as communists.

“State forces and their agents should not be allowed to attack lawyers only because their clients are perceived enemies of the state. That is not simply how the legal profession must be treated,” the petition read.

Members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and their clients call on the high court to protect the defenders. (Photo courtesy of NUPL)

The NUPL also cited the filing of trumped-up charges of kidnapping against Katherine Panguban “for merely assisting the mother to retain custody of a minor who survived a massacre of landless peasants in Sagay, Negros Occidental.”

The group also mentioned several incidents of surveillance against their members in Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Cordillera, Nueva Ecija, Metro Manila, Albay, Sorsogon, Negros, Iloilo, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Davao City and other parts of Mindanao.


The NUPL argued that the acts of Duterte and the military violate their rights life, liberty and security. It cited the jurisprudence that states that the right to security includes “freedom from threat” and “can exist independently of the right to liberty.”

“Petitioners are harassed not for their individual actions as lawyers per se , but for being members of the NUPL and the cases, clients and issues they take on, for being pesky fishbones stuck in the voracious throat of the powers that be, and by a huge leap of logic, of being “fronts” of the NPA or the CPP. Given the context, history and contemporaneous statements and events, Petitioners have a well-founded belief that the respondents herein and their agents are responsible in many ways for the attacks against NUPL and its members,” the petition read.

The killings, threats, and harassments made against the NUPL and its members by state agents violate the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers which mandates governments to guarantee the functioning of members of the legal profession, the group said.

The petition further said that the surveillance, threats and intimidation against NUPL members not only constitute violation of their right to privacy but also negate the constitutionally protected and inviolable right of every person to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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