4 Dec 2020

Let it be crystal clear:
Defending the people, defending the “rule of law” and justice is our duty

There seems to be a misunderstanding of the role of lawyers, led by those in government who refuse to respect those who have dedicated their time and knowledge to the advancement and protection of human rights in the country.

In fact, in an essential sense, were it not for human rights, these people in government would not even be there.

These officials and their mouthpieces deliberately and conveniently forget the basic principle that lawyers discharging their duties to protect their clients’ rights should not be identified with their clients’ causes even as they themselves have their basic right to expression and beliefs. And the duty to protect lawyers and ensure that they do their job without hindrance falls squarely on the State.

To be clear, when we took our oath of office as lawyers, we swore to uphold the Constitution, obey the laws as well as the legal orders of duly constituted authorities even as we are duty-bound to be critical of unjust laws and governmental policies and actions that adversely impact on the people.

Never was it written, nor did we swear, to choose whom to defend and protect even as we have the free choice to rationalize our time, work and advocacies on the practical basis of preferential mandates, competing priorities, and limited capacities.

In fact, never did our oath forbid as to pursue justice, defend and protect the rights of activists, dissenters, human rights defenders, or any other groups or persons who are critical of the government.

Our oath to protect the “rule of law” and justice is for the people—not to those in power, not to those who prevailed in any election. Our oath is to uphold the Constitution and the laws, not be puppets or sycophants to the agenda of the ruling elite.

Lawyers—in whatever field of practice and fora—fight with the might of our pens (or gadgets), the sharpness of our words, the voice of reason, the depth of our knowledge of law, and the innate search for justice.

Whether we agree or not, these are the lens we use, with service to the poor, persecuted and oppressed as our North Star.

But the reprisal and vilification from those who believe that peace can be achieved when no one disagrees or when nobody calls out those that weaponize the laws to instill fear, have endangered the lives and rights of lawyers and their loved ones for their unfounded beliefs of what a lawyer must be. And this prejudices the administration of justice in the end.

After all, there are always two sides of the coin in any conflict and dissent in jurisprudence, as in issues of public interest in a democratic society, has its value.

The attempts to silence lawyers have not ceased. We have lost a number of lawyers, prosecutors and judges—front-liners in the pursuit of justice—to raging bullets of the militarists and authoritarian minds and their enablers, proxies and rabid followers. Many lawyers are continuously subjected to threats on their life, liberty, security and even practice. It goes with the territory in any arena of conflict, but it is even more perilous to those who chose human rights lawyering.

Particularly, people’s lawyers and others who defend the rights of clients like activists, farmers, workers, urban poor, indigenous peoples, women, human rights workers, journalists, critics, progressive lawmakers, and even alleged rebels,
have been tagged as communists and terrorists without an iota of credible, competent, and admissible evidence that will stand in any fair, impartial and independent tribunal.

Blinded by their dubious notions of “peace and justice,” these individuals, groups and offices with bigoted views use the State’s resources in vilifying and attacking lawyers. These attacks must be stopped; we should not let them continue. We will hold you to account in time.

The NUPL condemns the intensifying acts of violence, threats and intimidations against lawyers, prosecutors and judges who have pursued their sworn duty. We denounce the continuing vilification of NUPL and our colleagues particularly our Chairperson Neri Colmenares, our President Edre Olalia, our Secretary General Ephraim Cortez, our
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Protection of Lawyers Jobert Pahilga, and many others who have answered the call of public interest lawyering.

In particular, we deplore the ad hominem and scabrous attacks on our adviser, Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, whose impeccable
record of principle and passion for the people is inversely proportional to the dismal and dubious repute of his attackers, ironically including
some fellow lawyers hooked on power.

So we say, stop the attacks on lawyers! Let us just do our work. #

NUPL National Council

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