CEBU

Seares: Lawyers can get killed, like other people. But, hey, catch the killers.

News sense

LAWYER are not God’s special people, despite what some of them think when they strut on the public stage as prosecutor, defense lawyer, judge or legislator.

Like most people who are potential victims of crime these days, when lives are cheapened by the ease with which they can be taken away, lawyers are not exempt from the risk of illegal execution. Because of their work, the risk is even higher than other crime targets.

Monday (Sept. 2), just as lawyer Inocencio Dela Serna was driving his car through the gate of Cebu City’s courtrooms at Qimonda IT Center, men on motorcycle shot at him and his vehicle. He survived, a fluke or a miracle because most other victims in similar past incidents did not.

Still unsolved

These lawyers, cited for their prominence and the high-profile cases they handled, were not as lucky as Dela Serna:

[1] Jonah John Ungab, Ronda, Cebu vice mayor and practicing lawyer, who was ambushed in his car last Feb. 19, 2018 after attending a court hearing at Qimonda, as Dela Serna did when attacked;

[2] Mary Ann Castro, a long-time prosecutor in Cebu before she was assigned to Masbate, gunned down in her car last Jan. 17, 2019 along Capitol Road in Cebu City;

[3] Noel Archival, a defense lawyer, was ambushed last Feb. 18, 2014 on the national highway in Dalaguete, Cebu while he was returning home from a trial. His bodyguard was killed and his driver wounded.

[4] Salvador Solima, with his wife Verose, in their home office at Singson Village in Guadalupe, Cebu City on July 2, 2018, both of them killed by men who barged in pretending to be clients.

43 since 2016

And 39 other lawyers across the country. The Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) last July 5 summed up the death toll among lawyers at 43, counting from 2016 when President Duterte assumed office.

Victims of what LWRC called a “widespread and systematic” attack were illegal drugs and other defense lawyers, and land, labor, environment and human rights advocates--and judges and prosecutors involved in such cases.

Apparently, not just any lawyer is being struck down. It is usually a lawyer waging or defending the cause of people who are accused of drug trafficking or people who allege they are stripped or denied of their rights as landowner, tiller or laborer.

Not all the lawyers

It is not a case that the cliché “Let’s kill all the lawyers” erroneously suggests: to create chaos, the character of an anarchist in Shakespeare’s play wanted to eliminate the people who help promote order, namely, the lawyers. But not all lawyers, perhaps just the lawyers whom they suspect to be “sleeping with the enemy,” of the state or the laws they want to enforce.

National leaders of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) already sought the help of the Supreme Court since the lawyers who were killed were officers of the court who were mostly serving their clients.

After the killings of Rodel Batocal, a lawyer-congressman, on Dec. 22, 2018, and Erfe del Castillo a day before, the IBP wrote an open letter, published on Dec. 24, to SC Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, expressing “ grave concern over the rising number of extrajudicial killings” in the country. IBP asked for “immediate action” to protect the lawyers and uphold the rule of law.

Whether CJ Bersamin talked with PNP officials or despite police efforts after their meeting, the killings have continued.

Last May 20 and 21, 2019, one day after the other, Edilberto Golia in his car in Rodriguez, Rizal and Al Crisostomo in front of the Hall of Justice in Dagupan, Pangasinan were shot dead by unidentified armed men.

Lethargy, excuse

How to stop or at least reduce the killings? Police need to solve each murder, catch the culprits and prosecute them. If killers know they can get away with crime, impunity inspires and emboldens others with murder in their mind to follow the example.

Letting even high-profile executions remain unsolved also nurture lethargy of law enforcers towards murders involving unknown or less-known personalities. And provide what we fear is standard excuse: chalk up the death toll under illegal drugs or some other criminal activity and the case is closed or shelved. The lawyers? They can use the high risk as reason for higher fees.

Cold cases

Dela Serna figured in several high-profile cases. That looks bad because they can supply as many theories for the assault, which makes it tougher to pin down.

To this day, the public doesn’t know who killed Ungab, Castro, Archival and Solima, among several others, and why they were killed.

One can only hope, as the public must hope about other unsolved crimes, that the attack on Dela Serna won’t be lumped with the increasing number of cold cases involving lawyers across the country.


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