Under the Duterte administration, 61 lawyers have been killed – from July 2016 to January 2021 – without any convictions made against perpetrators. One of whom is Angelo Karlo.
He was attacked in such a crude and brutal manner. He was stabbed multiple times in the head and the shoulder by two assailants. Guillen was part of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, representing cases of activists and indigenous peoples who are also being targeted by killings and made the subject of arrests. He is also counsel in one of the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 before the Supreme Court.
This is alarming that even the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Supreme Court itself issued a statement condemning this blatant attack on the legal profession. The SC has to say: “To threaten our judges and our lawyers is no less than an assault to the judiciary. To assault the judiciary is to shake the very bedrock on which the rule of law stands.”
What is the implication of this alarming data if we turn a blind eye?
Arguably, the implication of this blatant attack on the legal profession, particularly lawyer killings, is a society that tolerates killings and a culture of impunity. As Atty. Ross Tugade, a fellow with the Center for International Law, “For when advocates that stand for justice fall, many are soon to follow. This is far from a doomsayer’s thought. One of the last things we want to happen is for our lawyers to be killed. It is not just the value that we, as a society, assign to lawyers that are at stake; it is the value that we place on the lives of those who dare challenge injustice.” Indeed, without the accessible, impartial, and the transparent rule of law, chaos results. Injustice will be rampant.
For that matter, what is injustice?
It may be better viewed when we define justice. I see the criminal justice system as a triangle, a tripartite where the three ends are prosecution, defenders, and judges. It has to remain a perfect equilateral triangle. However, what will happen when one of the ends is attacked and lost its ground: injustice.
Perhaps the pessimist would say – and many of us would too because we are experiencing and suffering now a rampant disregard of the rule of law – “Justice equals the law times the zeitgeist.” That the law on its own does not stand up, you need the mood of the times on your side (Diane Lockhart, The Good Fight). Nevertheless, we cannot allow injustice to stare at our own eyes because the mood often does not favor justice. After all, as Emily Lopez of All Rise, an American court drama, said, “What is injustice than people. People who surrendered.” What the SC said and the Court’s promise to remedy this attack to the legal profession and judiciary is inspiriting and a balm to assuage the fear of the legal profession, “True to the just virtues we all must fight for, our resolve is unqualified. We recognize the bravery of all the judges and lawyers who show up to administer justice in the face of fear.” The Court is addressing lawyers and judges, but parallel to that, we, too as the citizens of the Philippines, must continue to rally and condemn in severest any act of blatant disregard of the rule of law that causes injustice in the face of fear. Amidst our fear, we must not yield and surrender our fundamental and constitutional rights because the zeitgeist is not in our favor. Justice is people —people who are unyielding.
Abdullah M. Edris, a frustrated creative-persuasive writer, is a legal researcher and a fourth-year law student. In college, he graduated cum laude in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology Management at MSU-IIT. He was a college journalism awardee. This nonbinary and gender nonconforming lad loves language, literature, and culture. He is one of the writers at The Nexus.