By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent
Experts on the Philippine Constitution, human rights lawyers, and several associations of law students on November 2 launched the legal alliance “Manlaban” to coordinate the different legal challenges to extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations under the Duterte administration.
In a strongly worded statement, the Mga Manananggol Laban sa Extra-judicial Killings described the conduct of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war as “a blatant disregard of the right to life.”
“Thousands of victims who are poor and powerless have been targeted and brutally, nay mercilessly, executed by the state, its agents and proxies with blatant contempt and disregard for due process,” the group said.
The convenors included former Sen. Rene Saguisag, constitutionalist; Dean Pacifico Legal Agabin, Edre Olalia and Neri Colmenares of the National Union of People’s Lawyers; Dean Jose Manuel Diokno of De La Salle University and chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group; former Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña; Dean Ernesto Maceda Jr. of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila; June Ambrosio, a well-known champion of women’s and children’s rights and head of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ National Center for Legal Aid; former congressman and human rights lawyer Erin Tañada; Roberto Cadiz of the Commission on Human Right; professors Victoria Avena and Roel Pulido; Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center; and Evalyn Ursua and Cleto Villacorta III.
Aside from their individual and organizational legal service programs, the group is pushing the advocacy for human rights by holding forums nationwide and helping in the training of paralegal volunteers.
“We have never had a greater need for paralegal aid,” La Viña said.
The group’s advocacy goes beyond the alleged 12,000 killings since the start of Duterte’s crackdown on drug users and sellers to include all other extra-judicial killings, the threats to freedom of expression and the attacks against human rights defenders.
The Duterte administration has repeatedly said the 12,000 figure is wrong and exaggerated. It has insisted that the “real” figure is 3,967 “drug personalities” killed from July 1, 2016 to October 25, 2017 in presumed-legitimate anti-drug operations, where the suspects violently fought back, prompting law enforcers to act in self-defense.
Olalia also cited the need to challenge an array of authoritarian tactics introduced by the Duterte administration, including the police practice of conducting house-to-house drug tests and the use of intelligence “drop boxes” and surveys that violate privacy to boost the list of targeted drug users.
“With the violence on all fronts of President Duterte’s war, there is deep fear, indeed, among the living that death will come for virtually anyone, sooner, at the door,” Manlaban said.
The group rejected Duterte’s oft-repeated claim that he first needs to wipe out the tentacles of narcotics gangs at the grassroots.
“Extra-judicial killings have not worked before and will never work now,” Manlaban said.
“The effective solution to the drug problem in the Philippines is cleaning up the government of officials, including the police and politicians, who protect drug syndicates; the effective prosecution of all involved, especially the big drug lords, to dry up the supply chain; and inclusive economic development to uplift the people from penury and thus stem the demand for anti-social vices like drugs.”
The lawyers dismissed as a myth the government’s claim that its conduct of the drug war has popular support from Filipinos.
All Filipinos should support a campaign against drugs, La Viña said.
But he said the surveys consistently showed that the majority of Filipinos were concerned about extra-judicial killings and scared that they could also fall victims, and believed that Duterte’s campaign was largely targeting poor citizens.
The lawyers stressed Manlaban’s non-partisan character and urged Filipinos to reject the government stance of equating dissent with de-stabilization.
“Human rights have no color,” Tañada said in response to a question about Duterte’s claim of a “Yellow-Red” conspiracy.
“Human rights are for everyone,” said La Viña. “We come from different political strains. We do not fear these accusations.”
“Our records speak for us,” said Olalia, adding the group’s members had consistently fought for human rights since the rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Last month, Duterte ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign and placed the Philippine National Police at the backseat after he suffered a third-quarter drop in his net satisfaction ratings, which analysts linked to his bloody war on drugs.