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

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4) — Petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act on Thursday called on the Supreme Court to take action following Wednesday’s attack on one of their counsels, human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen, who was stabbed by two unidentified men in Iloilo City.

In a joint statement, nine of the counsels and petitioners urged the high court to finally issue a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the dreaded law.

Lawyer Howard Calleja noted that they have been waiting for a TRO since July, when President Rodrigo Duterte signed the anti-terrorism law. The Supreme Court is now holding oral arguments on petitions seeking to junk it for alleged constitutional violations.

“The issuance of a TRO on the enforcement of the ATA (Anti-Terrorism Act) pending the final adjudication of the 37 petitions could help address the worsening situation,” Calleja said, reading the petitioners’ statement in an online media briefing.

According to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Guillen sustained two stab wounds on his head and back. The masked assailants reportedly used screwdrivers during the attack on Wednesday night.

The petitioners said this is not the first time a lawyer was harassed or attacked, but this should be the last. At least 54 lawyers and judges have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, according to the IBP.

Women’s rights lawyer Evalyn Ursua, who suspects she has been under surveillance by state forces as evidenced by motorcycle riding-in-tandem taking photos of her house and phone calls from unknown individuals, said there should be a “prevention and institutional response” from the Supreme Court.

Under kami ng jurisdiction ng Supreme Court. Nadi-discipline kami ng Supreme Court. Supreme Court talaga ang principally dapat may gagawin. Kailangan yung Supreme Court ang magko-coordinate or magdedemand ng accountability sa executive branch,” Ursua said. "Hindi 'yung mag-aantay pa ng sunod na mamatay o sunod na maaatake."

[Translation: We are under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. It can discipline us. The Supreme Court really has to do something. It should coordinate or demand accountability from the executive branch. It should not wait for another killing or attack]

Hinihintay ko ang statement sa ating fellow lawyer na si Presidente. Kasi importante na may message mula sa Presidente ng Pilipinas para tumigil na itong mga atake na ito sa mga abogado,” she added.

[Translation: I am waiting for the statement of the President, a fellow laywer. It's important that there's a message from the President of the Philippines to stop the attacks against lawyers.]

IBP President Domingo Cayosa said the high court should also push for the speedy resolution of cases involving crimes against lawyers, so it could serve as a deterrent.

The Department of Justice has a task force on lawyers’ killings, Cayosa said, and the IBP has requested the agency to allow them to send an official for representation. A private lawyer from groups that have fallen victims to attacks and harassment could also join the government task force, he said. He said the department agreed, but the IBP is still waiting for an invitation.

In a statement, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he's waiting for Guillen's statement before referring his case to the Administrative Order 35 Task Force, or the task force against extrajudicial killings, and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons. The task force can step in if Guillen "has good reason to believe that it’s related to his advocacies," he said.

In a Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque condemned Guillen's stabbing and said the police and the National Bureau of Investigation should hunt down the suspects.

The IBP hopes a summit on lawyers’ security can be held before Chief Justice Disodado Peralta retires on March 27. Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman is calling on colleagues in Congress to pass a bill to protect human rights defenders.