Philippine Supreme Court slams killings of lawyers, judges

Legal Analysis

The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday condemned the alarming number of killings and threats against lawyers and judges. One legal group has said these attacks are considerably higher under President Rodrigo Duterte compared to the past 50 years under six former presidents.

The 15-member high court asked lower courts, law enforcement agencies and lawyers and judges’ groups to provide information about such attacks in the last 10 years, in order for the court to take preemptive steps. The attacks, it said, endanger the rule of law in an Asian bastion of democracy.

“To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault on the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands,” the high court said in a rare, strongly-worded censure of the attacks. “This cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours.”

The court said it would not “tolerate such acts that only perverse justice, defeat the rule of law, undermine the most basic of constitutional principles and speculate on the worth of human lives.”

The Free Legal Assistance Group, a prominent group of lawyers, said at least 61 lawyers have been killed in the five years of Duterte’s presidency compared to at least 25 lawyers and judges slain under six presidents since 1972, when dictator Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law.

Lawyers’ groups said the court’s denunciation was long overdue but nevertheless welcomed it. “We have been sounding out the clarion call and providing information and concrete recommendations for the longest time,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, who heads the left-wing National Union of People’s Lawyers.

A number of lawyers who represented suspected drug dealers or were linked to the illegal drug trade were among those gunned down under Duterte’s rule. When he took office in mid-2016, Duterte launched a massive anti-drug crackdown that has left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead and alarmed Western governments and human rights groups.

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