Philippines: Lawyer who Criticized Anti-Terror Law Knifed, Robbed

Nonoy Espina
Bacolod, Philippines
Philippines: Lawyer who Criticized Anti-Terror Law Knifed, Robbed Activists at the University of the Philippines in Manila protest against the nation’s new anti-terrorism law, July 27, 2020.
Luis Liwanag/BenarNews

The Duterte administration on Thursday condemned a knife attack on an attorney and ordered an investigation into the incident, which a lawyers’ group alleged was connected to the victim’s criticism of an anti-terrorism law adopted last year. 

Two men wearing face masks attacked attorney Angelo Karlo Guillen in the central city of Bacolod on Wednesday night. Guillen, who suffered stab wounds to his head and shoulder, was rushed to a nearby hospital, according to his group, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL). He was reported to be in stable condition Thursday afternoon.

“We condemn that attack in the same manner that we condemn any attack that seeks to violate the right to life,” said Harry Roque, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte. “We consider this attack on a lawyer as condemnable because our rule of law is also being attacked.”

Roque said Duterte had ordered an investigation.

In a preliminary incident report, local police chief Maj. Mark Evan Salvo said the attack could be a simple “robbery” gone awry, noting that the lawyer’s bag containing his belongings, including his laptops and documents, was stolen.

The government, Salvo said, had ordered the police, as well as the justice department to get to the bottom of the incident and arrest those responsible for the crime.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Guillen’s peers, who call him A.K., said it could be linked to his work.

Anti-terror law challenged

Guillen is the local chapter leader of the NUPL, a group that has been at the forefront of questioning Duterte’s anti-terror law. The military has accused the NUPL of having links to communist rebels, a practice called “red-tagging” and widely condemned in the Philippines.

As a human rights lawyer, Guillen represents some people involved in 37 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law.

Passed last year, the law was hailed by security forces desperate to curb militant groups three years after extremists linked to the Islamic State group laid siege to the southern city of Marawi. Months of fighting left an estimated 1,200 militants, soldiers, police and civilians dead.

But local and international groups have rejected the law and asked the Supreme Court to strike it down, claiming it gave security forces sweeping powers to arrest people on mere suspicion. They also accused the government of weaponizing the law to stifle legitimate dissent.

The attack is the latest in a string targeting lawyers since Duterte took office in July 2016. At least 56 judges, prosecutors and lawyers have been attacked and killed across the nation as of January, the NUPL said.

“The message we get is ‘we are watching you and if you don’t shape up or toe the line, we will get you,’” NUPL Secretary General Edre Olalia told BenarNews.

“It is self-evident for us that A.K. was attacked because of his work, beliefs and advocacy,” he said. “To discount this and put the robbery angle on the front burner is precisely the reason why there is no justice even for lawyers who seek justice.”

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