A human rights lawyer survived an ambush Monday when motorcycle-riding gunmen opened fire at her SUV in the central Philippines, a region where political violence has been rising since July, attorneys and rights groups said.
Lawyer Criselda Heredia was driving home from a court hearing with her daughter and a client when the attack occurred before noon in the town of Panitan in Capiz province, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said, quoting police investigators.
Rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) condemned the attack.
“This is indicative of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country where all critics who raise legitimate demands, including human rights defenders, are deemed as targets,” Karapatan said in a statement.
Heredia told reporters that two gunmen on two motorcycles were responsible for the attack.
“I still have to check it, but there are [police] findings that [one of the gunmen] fired six shots,” Heredia told Bombo Radyo, a local radio station. “There were two motorcycles.”
She said she was not sure if the gunmen were targeting her or her client.
A video of Heredia’s white SUV parked outside a local police station appears to show at least nine bullet holes on the rear passenger side. Bombo Radyo posted the footage on its Facebook page.
Heredia was “red-tagged” over allegations she supported communist rebel group New People’s Army (NPA), which has been waging a bloody insurgency since 1969. She denied the allegation and military officials have said they did not red-tag activists and journalists.
BenarNews could not reach military officials for comment on Monday.
The lawyer “has been personally threatened by a military agent who visited her office and warned her to slow down on her human rights advocacy,” the NUPL said.
Last December, posters appeared in Iloilo City bearing the pictures of local NUPL members alongside members of leftist organizations. The posters accused NUPL members of being “fake people’s lawyers” with alleged links to the communist movement.
NUPL noted that the attack on Monday followed demands by international organizations for the Philippine government to protect lawyers, adding at least 42 lawyers have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016.
On Negros island, also in the central Philippines, at least three lawyers have been killed in the last year – Rafael Atutubo, who was gunned down in Bacolod in August 2018; human rights lawyer Ben Ramos, who was shot dead in Kabankalan City in November 2018; and Anthony Trinidad, who handled agrarian cases, was killed in an ambush in Guihulngan City on July 23.