More lawyers have been killed in the five years since President Rodrigo Duterte took office than under any other government in Philippine history. Data collated by the news website Rappler found that 110 lawyers were killed from 1972 to the present. Sixty-one of those killings have taken place since 2016.
Since 2004, charges have been filed in just seven cases in which lawyers were victims, underscoring the lack of accountability for serious crimes in the Philippines. The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), one of two nongovernmental groups that track killings of lawyers, said more than half were work-related. The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which also monitors attacks, said most of those killed represented either victims of the “war on drugs” or victims of human rights violations. The NUPL said, “almost all perpetrators have never been brought to the bar of justice.”
Many of the high-profile attacks involved members of the NUPL, which represents leftist activists as well as victims of human rights violations. In 2018, gunmen shot dead Benjamin Ramos in Negros Occidental, a province in the central Philippines that has seen an uptick of violence directed against plantation labor organizers, peasant groups, and rights defenders. Earlier this month, masked men with a screwdriver stabbed Angelo Karlo Guillen, the NUPL’s secretary-general on Panay Island. Guillen, who was critically injured but survived, had handled several rights-related cases, notably the police killing in December of nine members of an Indigenous peoples’ group.
Lawyers in the Philippines have a long history of representing victims of human rights violations, making them targets as well. FLAG was founded in 1974 at the height of the Marcos dictatorship. The majority of cases it handled were political or human rights cases. NUPL was founded in 2007 during rampant rights violations under then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; 22 of the 110 lawyers killed in Rappler’s tally were murdered during her presidency, the highest after Duterte.
The targeted killing of Filipinos swept up in the brutal “war on drugs” or taking part in human rights activism is bad enough. The killing of those who defend them or seek to provide their families redress adds immeasurably to the horror. The international community led by the United Nations Human Rights Council needs to act more decisively to press the Duterte administration to end the violence.
This post was originally published on Human Rights Watch News.