Seares: Cebu lawyers pushing protection program to higher level: 24/7 hotline, bodyguards, safe-house. Would that be special treatment?

Seares: Cebu lawyers pushing protection program to higher level: 24/7 hotline, bodyguards, safe-house. Would that be special treatment?

THE proposal called Lawyers Protection Program that was formalized Monday, January 13, by 11 lawyers -- all members of the Cebu province chapter of Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) -- decidedly takes to a higher level the requested response to the rash of killings of lawyers in Cebu.

The lawyers group has not ramped up the usual condemnation of the state of law and order, which has made lawyering "one of the most dangerous careers in the country," and the appeal for law enforcers to end the "climate of impunity."

Heavier load on table

Still, the 11 Cebu lawyers have placed a heavier load on the table.

They want a round-the-clock, seven-days-a-week hotline to which a lawyer can call for help when his safety or life is threatened.

And police or NBI who can quickly assess the threat, as well as close-in security and, if needed, relocation to a safe-house. Along with trainings for lawyers on how to detect and avoid danger and easing the rules on carrying a gun, if the threatened lawyer wants a gun.

All that, or even some of that, would require a lot of resources, not just from the police, NBI and other law enforcers, but also from the lawyer who gets the death threat and his or her IBP chapter, which under the proposal will bear part of the expenses.

Earlier requests

The Cebu lawyers are asking a lot more than earlier petitions, including those raised in Manila:

[1] Law school deans, former lawmakers and ex-government officials last December 22, 2020 trooped to the Supreme Court, with a letter addressed to the chief justice requesting three things: (a) assure "thorough, prompt, impartial and independent" investigation into the killings; (b) convene a dialogue between the SC, IBP, PNP, AFP, other state agencies tasked with law enforcement, and civil society; and (c) demand "accountability and justice" for the violence committed against lawyers, judges and prosecutors.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, who was to retire this March, responded only with a call for law enforcers "to press on with their investigation so that perpetrators of the barbaric act can be caught and brought to justice."

[2] The national IBP and National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), also last December 22, in separate letters asked the president and vice president and the other highest officials "to use their powers to end the violent attacks on their ranks."

Whatever efforts the appeal drew from the top officials apparently did little: the list of 54 victims has since grown. Since October last year, three more lawyers were shot, two of them dead, in the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu and Danao. The third victim was Baby Maria Concepcion Lander-Ole of the IBP province chapter while driving her pickup on Danao highway.

IBP, PNP already partners

Last March 3, 2020, the IBP national president signed a memorandum of understanding with then PNP chief Archie Gamboa, himself a lawyer, to "collaborate and prevent attacks on lawyers."

The team-up will have both police and lawyers' association sharing with each other information and keeping direct communication "to preempt, avoid or reduce" violence against legal practitioners. And PNP will give "preferential attention and fast-track" the investigation.

What differs the MOU from the usual lip exercise leaders is that the ritual was accompanied by a sealed and signed document for the IBP to create a P25 million Lawyers Security and Justice Fund (LSJF). Perhaps, the IBP province chapter and the local law enforcers can draw from that fund, if it is there already.

Wait. The fund is primarily for protecting and rewarding witnesses in the prosecution of the accused. It is uncertain if the Cebu lawyers can

get financial help from the IBP national fund for the hotline, bodyguards, safe-houses and training of lawyers the local lawyers protection program aims to have.

'Special' protection

If lawyers would get all those measures -- after getting the parties concerned to sign the agreement -- other professionals might demand the same kind of protection.

But then there is no similar widespread and extensive assault on, say, doctors, accountants, engineers and the like. And legal practitioners, unlike resto owners or real estate brokers, work directly to help administer justice, which the spate of killings would erode and destroy. Government, in sum, has a special interest in protecting lawyers.

Under the police manual of operations, the killing of a lawyer requires the creation of a task force to solve a high-profile case. That by itself is already recognition by government that a lawyer's murder deserves special attention from law enforcers. Under that PNP rule, the killing of lawyers and journalists -- with mayors, governors, among others -- requires a task force-investigation. Which prompted a lawyer-journalist to quip, Would I get two task forces?

More useful

It seems the lawyers' protection plan, which Atty. Vincent Isles and the other lawyers crafted, in effect says that special attention from law enforcers is more useful if given to prevent the murder.

Much less so after the crime is done and the police, with the crime scene unit Soco's yellow cordon, arrive to confirm that, once again, another lawyer is killed.


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