Justice Under Fire by Vincent Michael Borneo
Dec 6 2010
(Institute for War & Peace Reporting)
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima turned gun enthusiast is reiterating her call for judges and prosecutors to be allowed to arm themselves.
She spoke out at the Prosecutors’ League of the Philippines Invitational Shoot fest in Quezon City on December 4 when the country’s legal fraternity also began to receive specialized security training on evasive driving.
Her call comes on the back of ongoing targeting of judges lawyers and prosecutors by killers. Two judges were gunned down this year in Northern Luzon alone while a recent attempt was made to kidnap Cagayan De Oro City Prosecutor Irene Meso.
With a reported 46 extrajudicial killings (EJK) against the legal profession the Philippines currently ranks as the third most dangerous nation for lawyers and judges after Colombia (278) and Iraq (210) based on media reports and the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) a group of lawyers law students and paralegals.
“Colombia is a battle zone of drug cartels and Iraq has been a war zone since 2003. That explains the high numbers of lawyers and judges killed in those countries” Atty. Edre Olalia NUPL secretary general said in an interview with Target EJK.
“It is quite alarming though for the Philippines to have lawyers and judges to be EJK targets. Lawyers and judges - more particularly those who are also advocates of social change – those who are one of the most articulate instruments in society against basic injustice.”
Based on news reports the NUPL database and Supreme Court records Target EJK estimates that 26 lawyers and 20 judges have been summarily killed over the past decade. Another 49 others have been attacked.
Deadly ambition: justice
The following lawyers were slain in relation to their work:
- Atty. Juvy Magsino of Naujan Mindoro Oriental vice-mayor and Bayan Muna member and her companion human rights worker Leima Fortu were killed on Februari 13 2004 in Barangay Amuguis Naujan Mindoro Oriental.
- Atty. Victoria Mangapit-Sturch of Baguio City was stabbed six times by an unknown assailant in September 2003. She survived that attack. But on April 13 2004 Sturch was shot dead while she was waiting for a ride on Harrison Road.
- Atty. Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco was shot dead in Cebu City on Oktober 11 2004. She was the lead private prosecutor in the celebrated case of cult leader and now Dinagat Islands Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. who is accused of killing his wife Alona Bacolod-Ecleo in Januari 2002.
- Atty. Versim Enad a former mayor was shot dead in front of MEJ Burger House Panabo City on November 18 2004.
- Atty. Edgar Calizo Sr. was shot dead by two unidentified men in Kalibo Aklan on November 22 2004. He suffered 17 gunshot wounds. He was the defense counsel in the Boracay killings of a German a Swiss a Briton and a Filipina in Mei 2004.
- Atty. Reuel Dalguntas and his nephew Garry Hopilena both of Davao City were killed in an ambuscade allegedly by “Davao Death Squad” men on motorcycles on Februari 5 2005 Dalguntas handled cases of slain former Panabo City mayor and lawyer Versim Enad who was killed in November 2004.
- Atty. Teresita Vidamo Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO) chief in Las Piñas City was shot dead in her L-300 van in Casimiro Village Pulang Lupa on Februari 9 2005.
- On Mei 8 2005 Atty. Ambrosio Matias and his son Leonard Matias a 23-year-old law student were shot dead by unidentified men inside a hut near General Luna High School compound in La Union. Matias was a counsel for peasant organizations in Central Luzon and Municipal Coordinator for the party-list group Anakpawis (Toiling Masses).
- Atty. Norman Bocar regional chairman of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Eastern Visayas was gunned down allegedly by soldiers on September 1 2005 in Borongan Eastern Samar province in the Visayas after an inter-agency meeting in the Provincial Tourism Office.
- Atty. Victor Padilla husband of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Ma. Luisa Quijano-Padilla was shot in the head by one of several men who entered his house in Sampaloc Manila on September 6 2005. He was handling sensitive cases including a case for child support against a wealthy businessman.
- Atty. Felidito Dacut member of the Board of Directors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in Leyte and Bayan Muna party-list lawyer in Eastern Visayas was gunned down inside a public utility passenger vehicle in Tacloban City Leyte on Maart 14 2005.
- Atty. Eugenia Vinluan Campol a PAO lawyer in Baguio City was gunned down by unidentified men while she was on her way to her car near the University of Baguio in September 2005.
Atty. Campol was the lead counsel for a complaint for abuse of authority and oppression filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against then Boliney town vice-mayor Dominador Sianen in Abra Province. The complainant was Campol’s husband Julius. Police allegedly said that Boliney Meior Ronald Balaoas and his father Benido a former mayor ordered Campol’s murder committed by Bernard Fassong.
- On Maart 31 2006 Butuan City prosecutor Godofredo Pacenio Jr. in Agusan del Norte province was on his way home to Buenavista town in a public transport vehicle when another passenger shot him dead.
- Atty. Carlo Magno Uminga of the People’s Law Enforcement Board (PLEB) in Pangasinan province was gunned down and his wife seriously injured when armed men attacked them on April 14 2006. Uminga had earned the ire of many police officers due to his work with PLEB a government agency prosecuting erring policemen among others.
- On Mei 15 2006 Atty. Rogelio Montero and his son Fiscal of San Jose del Monte City Bulacan province just came from a hearing and were looking for a place to have a snack. While alighting from their vehicle unidentified assailants suddenly appeared and pistol-whipped Montero killing him.
- On Juni 21 2006 Atty. Evelyn Guballa was killed by motorcycle riding men in Bago Bantay Quezon City.
- The former clerk of court of the Malabon Regional Trial Court Fiscal Julio Taloma was murdered in Meycauayan Bulacan province on Juni 26 2006.
- Atty. Froilan Villacorta Siobal who was killed with his wife Erlinda in Inerangan Alaminos City on November 19 2006 when they were blocked about a kilometer away from their house by gunmen who were a police officer and village watchmen.
- Assistant Solicitor General Nestor Ballacillo and his 23-year-old son Benedict were gunned down by two armed men on December 6 2006 while waiting for a passenger bus near their home in Barangay San Antonio Parañaque City. The assailants grabbed Ballacillo's backpack containing legal documents and his wallet.
- Atty. Gil Gojol a human rights and labor lawyer was returning to Sorsogon City in the Bicol Region after a court hearing on December 12 2006 when four armed men on motorcycles shot at his van driven by Danilo France. France was killed instantly. Atty. Gojol tried to flee but was shot in the buttocks. He fell on his face and was shot in the head. He died from four gunshot wounds.
Gojol and France were killed about 200 meters away from an army detachment of the 22nd Infantry Battalion in San Ignacio Gubat Sorsogon.
- Atty. Demetrio Hilbero 70 was killed on Juni 16 2007 in Real village Calamba City Laguna as he was about to open the gate of his law office near the public market.
- On Juni 17 2007 Atty. Luis Dote of the Public Attorney’s Office in Mandaon Masbate province was on board a passenger van from Mandaon when the suspects shot him upon reaching Maingaran village in Masbate City.
- Atty. Alejo Dojillo deputy Ombudsman of San Fabian Pangasinan was aboard a tricycle on his way to a bus terminal when he was shot by men aboard a motorcycle on September 10 2007.
- Atty. Rebecca Manuel-Basa and her lady client in a marriage annulment proceeding were shot to death by a professional killer inside the courtroom of RTC Branch 199 (Family Court) of Las Pinas City on November 15 2007.
- Atty. Concepcion Brizuela NUPL national treasurer and counsel for the Mangudadatu political clan was among the 58 civilians killed in the Ampatuan Maguindanao massacre on November 23 2009.
- Atty. Cynthia Oquendo also of the NUPL perished with her father Catalino Oquendo Jr. in the Ampatuan Maguindanao massacre.
Activist lawyers public defenders are targets
According to the NUPL lawyers who advocate social change are often targeted. Lawyers Magsino Gojol Bocar Matias and Dacut for instance were over time first subjected to surveillance labelled demonized as communists and then shot dead – some believe by military agents.
“The climate of impunity – and I wish to refrain from using "culture of impunity" because Filipinos have a long history that has demonstrated that they will not allow oppression and repression to go unabated and without ultimate responsibility – is specifically borne and engendered by the so-called counterinsurgency programs like Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) that do not distinguish civilians and civilian populations from the armed groups that the government considers ‘Enemies of the State’: This can help explain why we lawyers and even court officials become EJK targets too” Atty. Olalia said.
Judges are not spared
- Judge Celso Lorenzo Sr. of the RTC Branch 1 in Borongan Eastern Samar was shot dead on November 1 1999.
- Judge Hassan Ibnohajil of RTC Branch 45 in San Jose Occidental Mindoro was killed in Februari 5 2001.
- Judge Geminiano Eduardo of the municipal trial courts (MTC) of Jaen Penaranda and Gapan towns in Nueva Ecija was gunned down by motorcycle riding gunmen near Gapan on Juni 11 2001. Eduardo died from bullet wounds.
- Judge Ariston Rubio of RTC Branch 17 in Batac Ilocos Norte was killed in Oktober 31 2001.
- Judge Eugenio Valles of RTC Branch 3 in Nabunturan town Compostela Valley was killed on April 25 2002. Valles was gunned down by motorcycle-riding assassins while jogging along the provincial road.
- Judge Oscar Gaby Uson of RTC Branch 52 in Tayug Pangasinan was killed on September 27 2002.
- Judge Pinera Biden of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MTC) of Kabugao Apayao province was killed on Mei 17 2003.
- Judge Paterno Tiamson of Branch 69 of the Binangonan Regional Trial Court in Rizal was stabbed to death on Februari 21 2004 by unidentified assailants.
- Five bullets felled Judge Milnar Lammawin of Branch 25 of the Tabuk Regional Trial Court in Kalinga on April 9 2004 while he was buying bread.
- Judge Voltaire Rosales of the RTC of Tanauan in Batangas was gunned down by two unidentified men on motorcycles in Juni 10 2004. He handled heinous crime cases.
- Judge Estrellita Paas of the Pasay City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 44 was stabbed to death in her home in Natividad Pangasinan on September 23 2005.
- Judge Henrick Gingoyon of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) was killed on December 31 2005 in Bacoor Cavite.
- Judge Sahara Silongan of RTC Branch 15 in Cotabato City was slain by motorcycle-riding gunmen on December 2 2006. Silongan was Cotabato City administrator in the late 1990s and was also a former member of the Maguindanao provincial board.
- Judge Nathaniel Pattugalan of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City Branch 35 survived an attempt on his life in Oktober 2005 when he was assigned to the Metropolitan Trial Court in Baggao Cagayan. But on Januari 19 2007 Pattugalan was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle in Quezon City. He had reportedly issued arrest warrants for several policemen and a local politician in Buguey Cagayan.
- Judge Orlando Velasco of RTC Branch 63 in Bayawan City Negros Oriental was killed on Juli 25 2007.
- Judge Roberto Navidad of RTC Branch 32 in Calbayog City Samar was killed on Januari 14 2008 after buying his medicines at a local drugstore.
- Judge Philip Labastida of the San Juan Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) who was found dead with several stab wounds in his Quezon City house last December 7 2008.
- Judge Erasto Salcedo former presiding judge of Tagum City RTC Branch 31 was shot dead as he was leaving the Tagum City Sports Complex parking area at around on Juli 26 2009.
- Judge Andres Cipriano of the RTC Branch 9 in Aparri Cagayan was shot dead on Mei 18 2010 as he was about to enter his rented room.
- Vigan Ilocos Sur RTC Branch 20 Judge Reynaldo Lacasandile was shot to death while waiting for a bus ride to his court on Oktober 3 2010
“Judges unlike lawyers and most particularly human rights or people's lawyers have really not been specifically targeted mainly for political reasons. Most of the cases of attacks against judges were a result of the practice of their profession. When the avenues for peaceful redress are not made available or are ineffective and no other speedy proper and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law in the eyes of the losing party is available then this extreme recourse happens in a number of instances” Olalia said.
A case in point is that of Judge Henrick Gingoyon who had been involved in high profile cases as an activist lawyer and judge. He had sentenced Generoso Cuneta the son of former Pasay Meior Pablo Cuneta and brother of actress Sharon Cuneta to life imprisonment for malversation of public funds in December 2003 and handled the expropriation case over the mothballed Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 between the government and a Filipino-German consortium among many other high profile cases.
Before joining government he was counsel of the militant Kilusang Meio Uno (KMU) and headed the anti-bases coalition in Cebu.
Before he was killed he had received many death threats.
“The prevailing climate of impunity emanates from the lack of accountability of the perpetrators for the longest time giving them the clear signal that they can be brazen about these violations and get away with it nay even get praised promoted or coddled by the State and its national leadership and security officials who through inaction default acquiescence tolerance and worse through inducement or even tacit approval or devious design are complicit in these acts” Atty. Olalia said.
It is a sordid fact in the Philippines that when a litigant – rightly or wrongly – gets frustrated about the fairness of a court decision in a controversy these attacks on judges may happen. But there are also quite a number of incidents where the political and economically powerful deliver the message that they are above the law by attacking judges betraying their contempt for what is harped as the rule of law.
The Judiciary has in fact done practicable measures to raise security in and around courthouses conducting security trainings among their personnel and providing mechanisms and exemptions for judges to carry firearms. Under current court rules firearms are disallowed inside courtrooms as even policemen who escort defendants to court for their arraignment are barred from bringing their guns into the court salas.
“These measures do some help. But the fact is that not one case – wherein the suspects and mastermind of each lawyer and judge killed has been brought to justice – has been solved” Olalia said.
For Filipino lawyers there is no deadline for justice. The legal profession is and always will be under attack if the climate of impunity tolerated by successive administrations is not finally tackled by the Aquino government.
As Concepcion Brizuela said at the time she herself felt under threat: “If they can attack lawyers and judges then they can attack anybody.”
Brizuela was one of two lawyers killed in the Ampatuan Maguindanao massacre. Project Target EJK/ED
(The author writes and researches on human rights issues in the Philippines.)