61 legal practitioners killed since 2016, zero convictions – lawyers’ group

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 10) — Sixty-one lawyers, judges, and prosecutors have been killed under the Duterte administration, according to an independent tally released by the Free Legal Assistance Group on Wednesday.

The lawyers' group said 43% or 26 of these killings are "deemed work-related," or connected to the victims' legal practice. The crimes happened between July 2016 and January 2021, based on news reports and monitoring of the Lawyers Rights' Watch Canada.

"The fact that almost half of the killings were due to work-related or possibly work-related motives is an indicator of the growing danger of practicing the legal profession in the country," FLAG said in its report. "This, along with the fact that no one has been arrested in 73% of the killings, are indications that the government has failed to fulfill its obligation to adequately safeguard lawyers who are threatened as a result of discharging their functions."

Fifteen of the killings are considered drug-related since the victims either represented accused drug personalities, or were implicated in the illegal drug trade themselves. The rest of the 27 incidents were believed to involve personal motives, such as debts or robbery, and other unknown reasons.

FLAG also provided a breakdown of the victims – 32 were into private legal practice, 21 were incumbent public officials, eight were former or retired public officials, and four were public interest lawyers.

Slain public officials included eight prosecutors and five judges.

FLAG noted that two of the public interest lawyers represented political prisoners, activists and peasants, and were previously red-tagged or accused as members or supporters of communist rebels.

While around a dozen of lawyers were being killed yearly for the past four years, not one conviction has been made, according to FLAG.

"The government investigated most of the incidents," FLAG said, but noted that suspects have been arrested only in 13 of the killings, and charges have been filed only in nine cases so far.

Forty-eight of the legal practitioners were killed by motor-cycle riding assailants. The perpetrators were later identified in five of these killings. In four killings, the suspects were police officers. In one of these cases, charges against the cops were dismissed by the Department of Justice.

In a circular from the Office of the Court Administrator on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered all judges of first and second level courts to fill out a nationwide survey meant at creating an inventory on pending cases involving harassment, threats, attacks, and killings of lawyers. The judges were given 10 days to do so.

Since last week, lawyers have been reiterating their call for the Supreme Court to take action following another attack on a legal practitioner. Human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen, one of the counsels for petitioners against the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, was stabbed by two unidentified men in Iloilo City on March 3.

READ: Supreme Court told: Don’t wait for another lawyer’s killing

Lawyer Evalyn Ursua said President Rodrigo Duterte, a lawyer and former prosecutor, should publicly denounce and call for an end to the attacks on legal practitioners.