Amid the worsening state of human rights in the country, a new organization of lawyers committed to the defense and promotion of human rights was formed. This will certainly bring hope to the increasing number of victims and relatives of human rights violations.
BY KAREN PAPELLERO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Vol. VII, No. 33, September 23-29, 2007
CEBU CITY — The weekend of September 15-16 was a historical moment as it is ushered in a new organization of dedicated lawyers, providing a ray of hope for human rights. The continuous downpour in the city did not dampen the spirits of more than 130 lawyers, law students and paralegals from all over the country to band together and formally launch the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
Neophytes and veteran lawyers and human rights workers alike took their commitment to a higher level at a time when the human rights situation in the country has taken a turn for the worst.
“The horrible state of human rights and the continuing political killings, enforced disappearances, tortures, massacres, illegal arrests and detention, filing of false charges for political reasons and violations have created a need for a more organized approach to the rendering of legal services,” the lawyers’ group said.
“There has been an unprecedented increase in violations of human rights, and the brazenness, brutality and impunity by which they are being perpetrated by the military, police, paramilitary groups and death squads under the command, control, inducement or tolerance of the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have reached alarming proportions,” the NUPL added.
The lawyers’ group also noted that the serial deaths have reached almost 900 cold-blooded murders, almost 200 disappeared, and scores of others illegally arrested or unjustly detained while violent dispersals of public assemblies critical of the government and its policies, threats, harassments and hamletting of villages and the filing of false charges against dissenters continue with shameless impunity.
The NUPL said these condemnable violations are viewed as having a causal link between the consuming desire of the present administration to hold on to power despite serious questions of legitimacy, bad governance, bleak social and economic conditions, and the imposition and intervention of foreign governments and giant multinational corporations and institutions that result in the reversal of the gains the people have won in their assertion of democratic rights and freedom.
Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares, the newly-elected Secretary General of the union said the NUPL is intended to be a unified long term organizational expression and identity of what may broadly and collectively known as human rights lawyers.
“The NUPL shall serve primarily as a mechanism for collaboration, coordination and facilitation of legal services in the national and international levels. It shall serve also as a venue for advocacy on legal and patriotic issues in order to serve the people even more effectively and efficiently and to blunt and eventually defeat malicious, erroneous and politically motivated legal offensives and extrajudicial and illegal moves of the authorities. The NUPL shall help seek redress against the use of governmental powers against the interests of the poor,” Colmenares added.
One leap for human rights lawyering
The NUPL members, in their individual and organizational capacities have vowed to use their education, training and experience and eventually, their services and commitment, to defend the rights of the people in the national and international arena. They will also enjoin more lawyers to their cause and promote human rights lawyering as a badly-needed professional alternative.
It will also link up, establish and maintain professional and solidarity linkages with other national and international groups and organization of lawyers.
Part of NUPL’s legal intervention include rendering concrete, specific, prompt and competent legal services to victims of violations of civil liberties and political freedoms as well as economic, social and cultural rights of the poor and the oppressed; preparing, filing, prosecuting and pursuing to the end all kinds of cases, complaints, investigations, lobbying against suspected perpetrators of such violations especially notorious, incorrigible, remorseless members of the state security forces.
Colmenares said the NUPL shall maximize and rationalize the practical use of existing judicial, quasi-judicial and other legal fora and remedies in the national and international levels including mechanisms arising out of the peace process for the defense, protection and promotion of human rights.
The NUPL shall also campaign ,advocate and lobby for these liberties, freedom and rights in the national as well as regional and sectoral levels as well as to assert national sovereignty, share concrete experiences in handling human rights cases, provide venues for professional and political development and come up with specific recommendations and mechanisms to help ensure the defense, promotion and protection of human rights and the substantially contribute to the removal of impunity given to state security forces.
Colmenares also said NUPL will campaign for the protection and welfare of lawyers who are under threat and attack by virtue of the exercise of their profession especially those involved in human rights practice as well as the welfare of the families of lawyers who have been killed or attacked.
Local and international support
From its initial inception in 2006 during another lawyers’ conference in Davao City, the formal launching of the union was very much welcomed and applauded by various sectors and groups.
Former Vice-president Teofisto Guingona Jr. inducted the first set of officers with noted human rights lawyer and Judge Ad Litem Romeo T. Capulong as Chairperson and veteran human rights lawyer, Atty. Frederico Gapuz of Cagayan de Oro as the President of the NUPL.
The Founding Congress was also attended by Atty. Midas Marquez, the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court who also delivered the message of support by Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Satur Ocampo, Senator Jamby Madrigal, Integrated Bar of the Philippines- Cebu City Chapter President, Atty. Briccio Boholst and Cebu City Councilor Hilario Davide III.
Foreign lawyers, Atty. Jo Dereymaeker from the the Progress Lawyers Network in Belgium and Atty. Osamu Nikeura of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers in Japan also participated and showed their support for the lawyers’ union.
The Congress also enjoyed the support and endorsements of established international lawyers’ groups such as Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyers without Borders, Progress Lawyers Network, International Association of People’s Lawyers and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. (Bulatlat.com)