The Dutch foundation Lawyers for Lawyers warns in an open letter to President Aquino of the Philippines for the continued labeling of lawyers as enemies of the state by the military.
This month, Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes reportedly branded the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) as an ‘enemy’ in reaction to NUPL’s criticism on the promotion of an army general who is facing credible charges of human rights violations. Gen. Coballes was quoted as saying: "You don’t expect any positive statement from the enemy”.
The practice of labeling – combined with the culture of impunity and the military involvement in politics – has in the past been identified by national and international fact finding commissions as one of the main root causes for the spate of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines since 2001.
At least 23 lawyers were killed from 2001 to 2009. Many of them were labeled as ‘enemies of the state’ prior to being attacked, apparently because they were identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of performing their professional duties.
So far, only one person has been convicted for these killings and this occurred in 2006. Lawyers for Lawyers also notes that Filipino lawyers increasingly fear for being silenced by fabricated charges. There is an imminent threat that Edre Olalia, a prominent human rights lawyer and a founding member of NUPL, faces clearly false charges as a result of exercising his legal profession.
Atty. Olalia, together with other lawyers from the NUPL, deals with high profile cases in the field of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, demolitions of houses of the urban poor, privatization of government hospitals as well as cases related to various mass and people’s organizations.
Lawyers for Lawyers calls on the Philippine government to immediately and seriously protect and support all lawyers in the Philippines and take all measures necessary to stop the culture of impunity surrounding the acts of harassment and killings of members of the legal profession.