As the Court of Appeals hears today the petition for the issuance of the writs of amparo and of habeas data filed by Atty. Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) reiterates its unqualified support for its founding member and National Auditor.
The intense surveillance and imminent threats against her – several instances of military men casing and asking about her and her activities in their town in Isabela, a motorcycle cutting off her car while pulling out of the garage, all tied together by information from credible sources and friends – are sometimes brushed off by others as “hazards of the trade.”
But Atty. Salucon holds the enviable distinction of being counsel for many political prisoners in Cagayan Valley and Cordillera, all arrested and accused by the military of perpetrating common crimes despite allegations of the political character of their alleged acts.
The evening after one of the hearings for another pro bono case, her paralegal human rights worker William Buggati was fatally shot by suspected members of the military while he was on his way home. Atty Salucon’s consistent success in exposing the weaknesses, blunders and shortcuts of the prosecution, as has been the experience of several others from our ranks, is the prime reason why she is being targeted now. The military cynically calls her a “Red lawyer” and a “tinik sa lalamunan” [pain in the neck] for successfully defending her clients and frustrating the military’s designs.
But as a real people’s lawyer, she is and will not be cowed by the harassments and the threats to her life and her security. Even with the death of her paralegal, Atty. Salucon did not once think of stepping into the sidelines.
Lawyers as officers of the court must be able to defend the people with confidence knowing that the courts also exist to protect us. Today’s hearing on her case is a woeful reminder of how grave the situation is, and that attacks against lawyers and judges are unabated, if unnoticed, in the midst of people’s protest against anti-people policies of the current Aquino government in the Philippines. At least forty-four lawyers and judges have been killed since 2001; twelve other lawyers have received serious death threats.
International organizations such as the Dutch advocacy group Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) and the Lawyers Rights Watch of Canada (LRWC), among others, have warned President BS Aquino about the practice of labeling – combined with the pervasive climate of impunity – has in the past been identified by national and international fact finding missions as one of the main root causes for the spate of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines since 2001. The UN-accredited International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), of which NUPL is the Philippine affiliate, also treated Atty. Salucon’s case an important matter of serious concern at its Congress held in Brussels last month.
NUPL, the first awardee of the Belgian NGO coalition “Stop the Killings” campaign, will raise before the United Nations Human Rights Council and specifically with the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the serious situation of Filipino human rights defenders in Geneva in June.
NUPL, a pro bono association of human rights lawyers and law students, counts some 250 lawyers in private practice, the academe, prosecutors, public attorneys, judges as well as executive officials and local and national legislators as members across the Philippines. It is the first organization to lobby for the institution of the writ of amparo as a judicial remedy, promulgated in 2007. It provides legal education, accredited through the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education program. It manages an anti-impunity campaign under the auspices of the European Union, with grants for several projects duly approved and commended. It is counsel in a number of high-profile public interest cases before the Supreme Court.
How the military finds its gall to label NUPL as “enemy of the state” is reckless and imprudent as we painstakingly work to correct injustices through legal means.
An attack on lawyers for defending their clients is an attack on the so-called rule of law. It is designed to discourage other lawyers away from representing “unpopular” clients or even from representing the lawyers who represent those clients. The vitriolic harassment and discrediting of NUPL and its members appears to be systematic, and symptomatic of skewed sense of justice in the country. Atty. Salucon’s case hence, is not about her alone, but about each one of us who stand in court and elsewhere against human rights violations.
We defenders are now ironically trying the amparo with all its limitations, with very little comfort from a fumbling and bumbling president who keeps on passing the buck to the judiciary for his accountability and responsibility for unsolved and continuing killings of activists and journalists.
Now is a challenge to our courts thus: whether it should keep its “dignified silence” far too long, or channel all the rage into action and protect also its own.# (kc)
Edre U. Olalia
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
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