By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

MANILA – Sen. Leila de Lima last August 18 criticized the arrest and detention of three lawyers monitoring police officers’ search of a Makati bar Thursday evening.

De Lima claimed the arrests make lawyers the new targets of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.

“The message is clear. The police is no longer making any distinction between lawyers defending clients and the targets of police operations,” De Lima said in a dispatch from her detention cell.

“Lawyers are now fair game as targets of the drug war. That IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) card is no longer a protection from police abuse,” De Lima added.

GMA News reported that lawyers Leni Rocel Rocha, Jan Vincent Sambrano, and Romulo Bernard Alarkon were arrested at the Time in Manila bar in Makati City for alleged “obstruction of justice” and for “intimidating cops” implementing a search warrant, according to the Southern Police District.

De Lima said the arrest was PNP’s declaration of lawyers as targets, attributing the police action to Duterte.

“By arresting lawyers defending their client from a PNP raiding team, the police were responding in the only manner that they know since they were unleashed like dogs by their master in Malacañang two years ago,” De Lima said.

“Maybe it is only ironic that the mastermind of this breakdown in the rule of law, where even lawyers are no longer safe, is a lawyer himself,” she added.

“Tokhang is no longer for the poor and defenseless alone. Lawyers are also now in the PNP’s line of sight. Everyone is now equal, not before the law but in the breakdown of the rule of law and Duterte’s reign of impunity,” De Lima warned.

De Lima is currently detained over charges from the supposed “proliferation of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison while she was still the Justice secretary.”

IBP to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus
In another report by The Philippine Star, IBP President Abdiel Dan Fajardo said they will file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the “questionable arrest and detention” of three lawyers who were detained by Makati police.

Abdiel said they filed the petition last August 17 but the national organization for lawyers has yet to issue a formal statement on the detention of lawyers Alarkon, Soliven and Rocha.

In a Facebook post and a blog post to the European Journal of International Law (EIJL), meanwhile, law professor and partner at the Desierto and Desierto Law Firm Diane Desierto, has denied the alleged obstruction of justice.

“The young lawyers were sent to just monitor the search implementation and inventory-taking as part of standard procedures,” Desierto’s post reads.

“They identified themselves as counsels for the owner, and thereafter were told they had no authority there and then publicly handcuffed and arrested in public,” Desierto added.

On the EJIL blog, Desierto argued that the lawyers had followed standard procedure, “but instead, one of the police team members thought they were being ‘arrogant’ and immediately arrested them on a charge of ‘obstruction of justice’.”

“The police did not explain why, and how, the passive and quiet acts of note-taking and phone camera photography of cabinets being opened amounted to an ‘obstruction of justice’ under the Philippines’ Presidential Decree No. 1829,” Desierto added.

CHR: Lawyers’ arrests put ordinary Filipinos at risk
The Philippine Star, in a statement last August 18, reported that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the lawyers were only fulfilling their obligation as counsels of their client, which is a constitutional right of every Filipino.

“It shows an utter disrespect not only of the law profession but also of constitutionally enshrined rights. It emboldens other law enforcement agencies and puts at risk ordinary Filipino citizens,” the commission said.

“The Commission for its part, shall continue to pursue its investigation on the matter,” it added.