In a span of one week, two lawyers – Joey Luis Wee and Eric Jay Magcamit - were gunned down by assassins in Cebu and Palawan, respectively. Since 2016, 54 lawyers, prosecutors and judges have been killed, making the Philippines one of the most dangerous places for legal practitioners.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) has been quick to condemn the criminal acts, while at the same time, asks the question, “...if those who administer justice are themselves killed with impunity, how can the ordinary citizen believe in due process or feel safe and secure?”
Last year, Freedom House, an organization that works to defend human rights and promote democratic change, with a focus on political rights and civil liberties, and numerous law organizations around the world issued a joint statement on the increasing attacks against lawyers in the Philippines: “The attacks against and extra-judicial killings of lawyers and the impunity shielding perpetrators impair the ability of lawyers to provide effective legal representation, make lawyers increasingly wary of working on sensitive cases and consequently severely undermine the proper functioning of the rule of law and the adequate protection of rights, including the right to remedies and fair trial.”
The number of law professionals murdered in recent years is alarming and can be attributed among others to the failure of intelligence agencies and the police to resolve most of the crimes.
That the perpetrators in Palawan have been arrested and charged is laudable; but most of the other cases have remained unsolved. There is no doubt that hired killers are behind most of these crimes. In Cebu, there are known places where these hoodlums reside; yet the authorities seem to be clueless. Unless the killers are arrested and those who’ve hired them identified, there is no stopping on the threats on the lives of lawyers.
Has the justice system in the Philippines failed that there are elements in society that have taken the law into their hands? Are cases decided fairly and promptly? Do people fully understand the role of lawyers? Has the IBP been effective in addressing the redress of clients against erring lawyers?
These are questions that require to be answered and acted upon. A well-functioning justice system that the public can trust and have confidence on is the institutional solution to save the lawyers.