Foreign lawyers decry surveillance, harassment

Two of the men who allegedly tailed the delegation of international lawyers while they were in Manila on March 18. (Photo courtesy of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers)

MANILA — Delegates of an international mission that investigated the attacks on Filipino lawyers and the legal profession experienced firsthand how it was to be tailed and harassed by suspected state agents.

Suzanne Adely of the U.S. National Lawyers Guild and Hans Gaasbeek of the Day of the Endangered Lawyer Foundation (DELF) said in a statement that on March 18, after the delegation presented its initial findings at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) building, a man in civilian clothes who identified himself as a military personnel approached an IBP staff and boasted that “these foreigners are now under surveillance.” The man took pictures of the members of the delegation.

The group added that a woman, who claimed to be a journalist but could not present any identification, reported at the top of her voice to somebody over the phone.

Upon leaving the IBP premises, the group said they were closely tailed by two men riding in tandem on a motorcycle with no plate number. They were tailed until they reached their hotel where more men in civilian clothes and bull caps were standing at both entrances. In a statement, the delegation said the men were “obviously stalking us and peering into the lobby and monitoring the ingress and egress of people and vehicles.”

One of the suspected state agent who stood at the hotel entrance for hours on March 18, observing the delegates of international lawyers’ mission. (Photo courtesy of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers)

A member of the delegation’s host committee was also tailed presumably by the same group of people when she left the hotel.

On March 19, a heavily tinted car parked at the basement of the hotel tailed the vehicle of the delegation.

“Under the contemporaneous circumstances and in the context of the usual reaction of the Duterte government towards opinions inconsistent with its official line, these vexatious acts against our Delegation appear to have the fingerprints of intimidation and reprisal by State agents,” Adely and Geesbak said in a statement.

The delegation found it ironic that they, who openly met with government offices and officials other than the police and military which gave them a runaround, would be subjected to “brazen harassment.”

“Even more outstandingly ironic is that we as international lawyers made time to see things firsthand on the reported attacks on our peers and brethren out of genuine concern and who in good faith humbly put forward concrete recommendations for consideration by the authorities are ourselves the object of attack,” they said.

In its initial findings, the delegation found patterns of “state-sanctioned violence” against Filipino lawyers. They also noted the lack of investigation by government agencies on the killings of their Filipino colleagues.

The nine-member delegation belong to international lawyers’ groups International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), International Association of Lawyers (UIA) and Day of the Endangered Lawyer Foundation (DELF).

The delegation, which includes lawyers from Belgium, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and the United States, has reported the incidents to the respective embassies, the various international lawyers groups which organized, participated, supported and endorsed the mission, and the international community. (Report by R. Olea/ () )

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