Lawyers appeal to the SC: Protect lawyers, stop impunity, and uphold the rule of law

(MAR. 18)—Following the online circulation of the letter from the Philippine National Police (PNP) requesting the Calbayog Regional Trial Court for a “list of lawyers who represents the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) personalities,” a letter was filed yesterday by a group of lawyers and Court officers, earnestly appealing to the Supreme Court (SC) to urgently intervene motu proprio, by protecting the officers of the Court, ensuring the independence of the Judiciary, upholding the role of lawyers in the administration of justice and the defense of the rule of law.  The letter appeal was initiated by faculty members of the University of the Philippines College of Law (UP Law) and included a list of other interested lawyers and faculty members from other Universities.

In his letter dated Mar. 16, 2021 and addressed to the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the SC, Dean Edgardo Carlo L. Vistan II of UP Law formally transmitted the letter of appeal together with the list of 893 lawyer signatories.  Dean Vistan urged the SC to treat the appeal as an administrative matter to be considered by the SC En Banc, create an Ad Hoc “Special Committee to Protect Lawyers” to investigate, and coordinate with the DOJ and DILG to update itself on the case status of lawyers previously killed.

In its letter, the group mentioned that inquiries with lawyers and court officials across the country confirmed that they had received similar letters.  The group added that the subsequent denial by the PNP leadership of any such policy would not help since the damage has been done already.

“We are deeply troubled and concerned by this brazen and outright attempt to curtail legal rights and civil liberties, to endanger the lives of, and perhaps deliberately target, lawyers carrying out their legal duties, and this palpable act of intimidation meant to deprive alleged ‘CTG personalities’ of their constitutional rights to counsel,” the letter said.

The group also believes that the police action is meant to (a) intimidate lawyers from representing persons that the government has tagged as alleged members of CTGs even without the benefit of trial, (b) indirectly deprive persons accused as “CTG personalities” of their right to counsel by frightening lawyers from being associated with them, even if they do so as officers of the court, and (c) provide the PNP with another “list” of “personalities” against whom they may decide to take other actions in the future.

It further underscored that the said action is grossly inconsistent with paragraphs 16 and 18 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, to wit:

  1. 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 to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
  2. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.

A patent demonstration of impunity, the group said, is the blatant attempt to make the courts complicit in the potential violation of constitutional rights of litigants and the undermining of the Judiciary’s independence, and should not be left standing.

“Never in the history of our country has there ever been such an open and flagrant attempt to cow the legal community into shirking their sworn duties as lawyers and officers of the court, through an act of discrimination and inquisition clearly targeting lawyers for representing a particular category of accused clients,” the group said in its letter.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the Court is vested with the exclusive power to promulgate rules for the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights (Article VIII, Section 5 (5) as well as the power of administrative supervision over all courts and personnel thereof (Article VIII, Section 6).

In closing, the group mentioned that “These powers may be exercised motu proprio—and in these urgent circumstances, must be so exercised—by requiring an official explanation from the PNP leadership, at the first instance, and commencing proceedings perhaps towards ensuring that such instances never, ever happen again.”

Read the complete letter via — (UP Law Information and Publications Division)

Posted: March 18, 2021 14:23