MANILA, Philippines (AP) — At least 133 lawyers have been killed in work-related attacks in the Philippines since the 1980s, nearly half of them over the past six years during the tumultuous tenure of former President Rodrigo Duterte, a prominent group of lawyers said on Saturday .
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers also said harassment of lawyers and judges in the Philippines continued under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June, despite alerts from the country’s Supreme Court and international watchdogs.
Last year, in a rare public statement, the Supreme Court condemned the rising number of killings and threats against lawyers and judges, and urged lower courts, law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups to provide information about such attacks over the past 10 years so they can take preemptive steps . The attacks “cannot be allowed in a civilized society like ours,” the Supreme Court said.
The lawyers’ group told its members in a conference on Saturday that 59 of the 133 lawyers killed in the country since 1984 were murdered under Duterte.
Most of the killings remain unsolved and the attackers are unidentified, although state forces have been blamed for dozens of attacks on lawyers who, according to the lawyers’ group Melai Pinlac, appear to have been targeted to represent human rights defenders and activists.
Founded in 2007 as a private group of mostly lawyers, it has since lost five members “in homicidal attacks,” while three other members survived violent attacks. Several other members were “faced with fabricated charges” and harassment for doing their jobs, she said.
With the advent of social media, online threats are rampant, and members’ lawyers often become targets of false accusations “and wrongful branding as terrorists, communists or destabilizers,” Pinlac said.
Others have been “red tagged” – linked by authorities to communist guerrillas – and have been the target of physical attacks, particularly during Duterte’s presidency, she said.
Edre Olalia, president of the advocacy group, said the attacks had not stopped his organization from prosecuting abusive government officials, as well as military and police personnel. His group has called for judicial reforms and better treatment of poor suspects, including making bail affordable.
“We will not die out. We’re going to multiply,” Olalia said. “We will thrive until our raison d’être of being advocates for the people ends.”
Under Duterte, several lawyers representing suspected drug dealers or associated with the illegal drug trade were also shot dead. Others were attacked after being linked to communist insurgents.
When Duterte took office in 2016, he launched a massive drug crackdown that killed more than 6,000 mostly minor suspects, alarmed Western governments and sparked an International Criminal Court investigation into a possible crime against humanity.
The group of lawyers petitioned a court in Manila for letters of protection in 2019, while Duterte was still in office amid a spate of attacks on lawyers, but the petition was denied. It asked the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn the sentence amid ongoing harassment.