ON MARCH 12, 2021, a certain Police Lieutenant Fernando G. Calabria, Jr., chief intelligence officer of Calbayog City Police Station wrote a letter to the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Calbayog City Hall of Justice “requesting” a list of lawyers representing supposed communist-terrorist group (CTG) personalities in court. The letter shows that the request is supposedly in compliance with the order of “PNP higher offices” to which the data will be submitted. Attached to the letter is a table of the data being requested from the clerk of court, to wit: “Legal Personality, Affiliations, Client (CTG Personality), Mode of Neutralization, Case Filed, and Status”.
What is wrong with this letter-request?
Everything, including the atrocious grammar. But how the police brutalized the English language in this document is the least of our concerns.
The letter-request shows the barefaced disregard of the PNP for human rights, particularly the right to access lawyers and legal services. It is an affront to the right and duty of lawyers to exercise their profession without fear as well as the administration of justice.
The police has no right to profile lawyers on the basis of their clients’ personalities or ideologies. Under the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, lawyers must “not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.” Nevertheless, lawyers, like other citizens, are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. The persecution of lawyers, on account of their functions as officers of the court, simply cannot be tolerated.
That the PNP is incapable of comprehending the role of an independent legal profession in a democratic society is no longer a surprise. After all, the police, as the primary violence workers in this murderous regime, has been the leading perpetrators of lawlessness and terror in this country. It was the police that mercilessly killed suspected drug offenders in the tens of thousands and, most recently, nine activists in Southern Tagalog — tokhang-style — while allegedly enforcing search warrants for loose firearms. Even the reported assassins of Calbayog City Mayor Ronald Aquino are uniformed police personnel.
The letter intensifies the atmosphere of fear and repression with which lawyers are trying to perform their sworn duties towards the courts, society, and their clients, regardless of the latter’s political beliefs. It has no objective other than to create a virtual hitlist of lawyer targets to be “neutralized.” Needless to state, it must be rebuffed, even condemned, by the courts.
Notably, at least 54 lawyers, judges and prosecutors have been killed during Duterte’s watch by reason of their work. This is why the letter produces a chilling effect not just to the lawyers practicing in Calbayog City and the Eastern Visayas region, but also to all the lawyers in the country.
We thus reiterate our calls for measures that will ensure that lawyers such as ourselves will be able to perform all of our professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference. We also demand that the PNP immediately desist from harassing our colleagues in the legal profession — lawyers for “CTG personalities” or not.
(Statement of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, 12 March 2021)