MANILA, Philippines – Some of the biggest names in the Philippine legal profession came together to revive the 2006 group Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) to protest policies of the Duterte administration which they say violate constitutional rights.
"Not since the dark years of Martial Law have our civil liberties and fundamental rights been threatened and blatantly violated with such brazen impunity," CLCL said in a statement of unity and commitment during its relaunch at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Monday, September 23.
CLCL has no leaders, only convenors who include key political figures like Neri Colmenares of the Left; Erin Tañada and Chel Diokno who ran under the Liberal Party in the May 2019 elections; and legal luminaries such as constitutional framer Christian Monsod and former University of the Philippines law dean Pacifico Agabin.
Former vice president Jejomar Binay, with the organization Artikulo Tres, is also a convenor and was in attendance on Monday. Binay was part of the 2006 CLCL, which was formed to protest the policies of then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
CLCL was key to the crucial Supreme Court (SC) case in 2006 that blocked Arroyo's charter change attempt through the unlawful People's Initiative.
"The lawyers and law students persevered in 2006, and we achieved victories against Gloria then, and we will persevere and continue to struggle for civil liberties now," said Colmenares.
Ateneo Human Rights Center executive director Ray Paolo Santiago listed as among the threats to civil liberties the curtailment of freedom of expression, the rampant red-tagging, and the crackdown on dissent.
Santiago cited the government's attempt to shut down Rappler, and while he said he will not delve into the facts of the case, "just look at the timing."
"Even indigenous peoples are being red-tagged, even their way of education is being targeted, schools are being closed for allegedly being used for communist purposes. Peasants, farmers, those who are fighting for their rights, those dissenting from what's happening right now are being red-tagged," Santiago said.
Colmenares said the new CLCL aims to "organize lawyers and law students nationwide to oppose government policies and actions that violate constitutional rights and civil liberties."
Colmenares recalled the time that CLCL took to the streets, to oppose the state of national emergency declared by Arroyo which empowered the military to suppress all forms of lawless violence.
The rally resulted in the warrantless arrests of individuals such as journalist and sociologist Randy David. This led to the landmark SC case David vs Arroyo, where the Court, among other things, declared as unconstitutional the warrantless search of the offices of the Daily Tribune.
"We're seeing the resurrection of the same repressive actions of the government. CLCL is an action against repetition, it's an action to speak out against the revival of oppression, and of an authoritarian administration," said Marlon Manuel of the legal group Namati.
Manuel was among the lawyers who fought President Rodrigo Duterte's martial law in Mindanao. The SC has upheld Duterte's proclamation and all its extensions.
Photo courtesy of Neri Colmenares
IBP national president Domingo Egon Cayosa is a convenor of CLCL.
Despite the tenor of the assembly, Cayosa said "the IBP will not and should not be the political opposition." Cayosa also said there is "more democratic space now," given technology.
"We've learned that making a choice is always political. Standing for what is right is a political choice, but I think what we should not fall into the trap of is being partisan," said Santiago.
Colmenares quoted Dante Alighieri: "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality." – Rappler.com