In the Cordilleras: paralegal killed, rights lawyer under attack
On 25 March 2014 at around 7:00 p.m., activist and paralegal William Bugatti was gunned down by unknown assailants widely believed to be government security forces.
The morning Bugatti was killed, he was with Atty. Ma. Catherine Dannug-Salucon in a hearing the latter attended as counsel for one of two political prisoners who are accused of murder and frustrated murder at the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Lagawe, Ifugao, hundreds of kilometers north of Manila.
In this hearing, the prosecution presented its third witness who virtually admitted on cross-examination by Atty. Salucon and during clarificatory questioning by the court that he did not actually see Atty. Salucon’s clients at the scene of the ambush and that he was just shown pictures of them before the hearing. However, the witness failed to divulge the identity of the person who showed him the pictures, prompting Atty. Salucon to task her paralegal Bugatti to get the names, ranks and addresses of the prosecution’s witness’ handler/s.
After the hearing, he joined Atty. Salucon and relatives of their detained political prisoner clients for late lunch. There Bugatti told Salucon that he even helped secure the Hall of Justice by going there as early as 6:00 a.m. as a security precaution, culled from previous experiences and incidents of reaction and reprisal.
He also advised Atty. Salucon to change her usual routine in attending hearings at RTC Lagawe to ensure her security and to avoid a pattern by which the military men and PNP operatives could rely on in their surveillance. Hours after that, Atty. Salucon would learn of Bugatti’s killing.
Atty. Salucon’s name is reportedly included in the military’s Watch List of so-called Communist Terrorist supporters rendering legal services. She has been a public defender for several years, an active founding member of and recently elected as National Auditor of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).
A few minutes after Atty. Salucon learned of Bugatti’s death, she learned from a very reliable source that the Regional Intelligence Division of the Philippine National Police (PNP) through the PNP Provincial issued a directive to PNP Burgos, Isabela, Atty. Salucon’s home town, to conduct a background investigation and to confirm Atty. Salucon as a “Red Lawyer”. She further learned that she is being secretly followed by Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) members.
Atty. Salucon also monitored the following:
- Three different persons obviously looking like soldiers and all riding on motorcycles and a civilian intelligence operative from the so-called CIS, a group maintained by the CIDG, came around Atty. Salucon’s office to ask for her whereabouts with civilian intelligence operative leaving when told that Atty. Salucon was at the Hall of Justice but returned an hour after only to leave again after Atty. Salucon decided to stay late at the court.
- Around lunch on the same day, Atty. Salucon also received text messages from the investigator of the CIDG requesting for a copy of the records of a human rights case which was dismissed at the preliminary investigation level. The CIDG investigator said he lost his copies and the record was required, according to him, by the Regional Commander. Atty. Salucon was surprised because it was his third time to ask for a copy, so she decided to just ignore his text messages.
- On or about 7:30 o’ clock in the morning of 3 April 2014 while Atty. Salucon’s driver was waiting for her in front of her residence at Poblacion, Burgos, Isabela, a red “Wave” motorcycle with its plate number cased inside a tinted plastic cover which renders identifying plate numbers impossible, passed by the house.
The motorcycle driver who is of medium height, of dark complexion, with the haircut and demeanor of a military/policemen, with a tattoo at his left arm, wearing a white sando shirt and with a pistol bag slung around his shoulder, looked intently at Atty. Salucon’s driver when he passed by.
Then after passing by the whole stretch of Atty. Salucon’s house, the motorcycle rider suddenly made a U-turn and again stared intently at Atty. Salucon’s driver. As the unidentified motorcycle rider passed with Atty. Salucon’s driver trying to get some identification of him, the latter noticed that the motorcycle rider looked intently at his side mirror before reaching the highway and turned left towards the west.
With the brazen killing of her paralegal Bugatti on 25 March, her harassment and surveillance by the police and the military and given the military’s involvement in the extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders identified as leftists, Atty. Salucon, although a young fearless and dedicated defender of human rights and lawyer of political prisoners, has all the reasons to be worried. All these is intended to hamper her in the exercise of her profession.
We, at the NUPL, once again condemn the cowardice of the government’s security forces in choosing to futilely silence its perceived enemies instead of protecting their rights, including their right to dissent, as they are obliged to do under the Constitution. Members of the bench and of the bar, with greater risk faced by those who choose to tread the path of alternative lawyering for the poor and the oppressed, are not exempted from the government security forces’ cowardice and impunity by those who cannot give a good and fair fight.
We cannot afford to lose another human rights defender in the person of Atty. Ma. Catherine Dannug-Salucon. We have already lost one too many especially during the time of Marcos and Arroyo.
If any harm is inflicted on Atty. Dannug-Salucon or to any of her staff or family members, we shall hold the military and the police and Commander-in-Chief President Aquino himself accountable given the documented harassment and surveillance being made against her.
We demand justice for the killing of William Bugatti, Atty. Dannug-Salucon’s paralegal and a staunch activist, and an end to impunity even as we exhaust all legal and metalegal means, nationally and internationally, to prevent or stop these continuing attacks on human rights defenders.
Certainly, Atty. Salucon, as with many other faceless human rights lawyers out there who quietly toil daily on the battlefield of human rights, will never retreat from being on the side of the poor, the oppressed and the underdog. But who shall ultimately defend the defenders? (af)
Edre U. Olalia
NUPL Secretary General
NUPL Asst. Sec Gen for Protection and Welfare of Lawyers
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
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Central District, Quezon City, Philippines
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