MANILA, Philippines – Lawyers and law students launched on Thursday, November 2, the group Mga Manananggol Laban Sa Extrajudicial Killings or Manlaban Sa EJK. They demand an end to killings and "genuine investigations" into them.
This adds to the coalitions being launched left and right recently, among them Tindig Pilipinas led by key opposition lawmakers who criticize President Rodrigo Duterte's policies.
On the other side of the fence, Duterte's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, led the launch of Tapang at Malasakit Alliance which rallies support for the President. The Citizen National Guard which vows to protect the country against "enemies of the state" has Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and Public Attorneys Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta.
At the onset, convenor Tony La Viña said it was not a partisan group. "Ilang dekada na kami rito, maraming sumali dahil mahalaga itong gawin (We have been here for many decades, many joined because it's an important thing to do)," said La Viña, a political analyst and legal expert.
Edre Olalia of the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), also a convenor, said they do not have to explain themselves and their motivations. (READ: Lawyers do dirty groundwork to fight Duterte’s drug war)
"There's nothing to explain, we are here in our individual capacities. At any day, at any moment the integrity of the people here are beyond reproach. It can stand any day because we are fighting for the right thing," Olalia said.
Olalia also addressed the statement of the Citizen National Guard that dissent is the same as wanting to destabilize the government.
"Ang dissent 'yan ang bumubuhay sa isang lipunang demokratiko. Kahit sa Supreme Court may dissenting opinion. (Dissent keeps democracy alive. Even in the Supreme Court there is dissenting opinion). Blind unanimity and blind obedience are very dangerous in the face of onslaught against human dignity," Olalia said.
La Viña said that he acknowledges that lawyers have not exhausted all their resources in defending victims of extrajudicial killings.
The main thrust of the Manlaban sa EJK group will be conducting seminars and mobilizing groups to come out against killings in the government's war on drugs. They also promise legal assistance to victims of EJKs, but they said this would have to be done through their partner organizations which are already handling drug war cases like NUPL.
Olalia said that they also aim to enlighten their fellow lawyers who seem to have lost their way.
A reporter asked the lawyers to address the hiring of Harry Roque as Duterte's new spokesperson, knowing that Roque has been their ally in upholding human rights in the country. Roque founded Centerlaw which has been on the forefront of challenging Duterte's drug war.
"He has a job to do and we have an advocacy to continue. It's something that he has to explain, and not us," Olalia said.
Olalia also said that Roque's hiring should not be seen as having an effect on the campaign against human rights violations.
"Nobody defines human rights advocacy. It is the cause that defines it, and for whom you fight it," Olalia said.
La Viña joked, referring to Roque's statement that he will throw hollow blocks at his critics: "Kung magtatapon siya ng hollow blocks, magtapon kami ng pan de sal. Ang human rights hindi dapat pinag-aawayan (If he will throw hollow blocks, we will throw bread. Human rights is something you shouldn't fight over)."
Other convenors of the group are:
Student representatives are from the Association of Law Students in the Philippines (ALSP), Paralegal Volunteers Organization–UP Diliman, NUPL-UP Diliman, and the UP Diliman College of Law Student Government.
Photo by Angie De Silva/Rappler
The group said its priority for now is to reach out to the "disempowered" victims. During the launch, Niks Bisuña spoke of their experience with her brother Angelo who she claimed was killed while in police jurisdiction in Caloocan.
According to Bisuña, her brother Angelo had a background of drug use and was arrested in Bicol and transferred to Caloocan. She was later notified that her brother had died and was already in the hospital with injuries, she said, that indicated torture.
Bisuña said the Caloocan police has not been cooperating in their requests for documents, but they are determined to file a case.
Bisuña also said, "He has not harmed anybody. Drug addiction is not a simple crime, but a serious mental health issue, na kung maganda at malinaw ang programa ng gobyerno natin, hindi magkakaroon ng ganun. Magkakaroon ng humane na pagtrato sa billanguan, hindi kami titigil hangga't hindi nagkakaroon ng hustisya ang kapatid ko (if there is a clear and good government program, it would not have happened. There would be humane treatment inside the jails. We will not stop until we get justice for our brother)." – Rappler.com