“The Duterte administration added to its legacy the 58th lawyer and the 3rd National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer (NUPL) killed during his regime,” said Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) chair Antonio Azarcon in a statement.
Various government agencies and groups called for a probe on the killing of human rights lawyer and environmental defender Atty. Juan Macababbad on September 15 outside his house in Surallah, South Cotabato.
“The culture of impunity pervades with the lack of serious investigation and prosecution over thousands of extra-judicial killings in the country,” said Azarcon.
Macababbad was the vice chairperson of the UPLM, member of NUPL and Bayan Muna—all three organizations have been red-tagged by the government.
CHR independent probe, police probe
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it is now conducting an independent probe on the brazen killing of lawyer Juan Macababbad through its Region XII office.
“CHR strongly denounces the latest killing of another agent of law and an active defender of people’s rights and interest. The string of attacks against members of the legal profession remains unrelenting. Aside from the glaring violation on the right to life, this pattern of killings also contributes to the erosion of rule of law as it creates a chilling effect on those working for the pursuit of justice,” said the CHR in a statement on September 17.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Guillermo Eleazar ordered on September 17a “thorough probe” on Macababbad’s killing. Eleazar said he ordered the Regional Director and Police Region Office 12 to focus on the case and ensure that justice is served to the lawyer and his family.
“The Philippine National Police joins the legal community and the Filipino people in condemning the killing of a lawyer in South Cotabato,” he said.
Eleazar also tasked the PNP’s Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management to check on the status of other cases of killings of lawyers in the last five years to expedite the investigation on those which remain unsolved.
On September 16, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the government’s Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances which he chairs would wait on the police report and evaluate whether killing falls under the jurisdiction of the committee. The committee was created under Administrative Order No. 35.
House probe pushed again
Lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc filed House Resolution No. 2223 on September 16, calling to investigate and condemn the killing of Macababbad.
“It is imperative for members of Congress, as representatives of our people, to defend the rights of our people and check on excesses and violations, especially in this time of crisis,” said the Makabayan bloc composed of six representatives from partylists Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers, Gabriela and Kabataan.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said Macababbad, who once sought election as vice mayor of Surallah, was also a member of Bayan Muna.
At least four resolutions urging the House to condemn and investigate attacks on lawyers have been filed since 2019, but no hearing has been held on these resolutions.
Protecting members of the legal profession
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) called for a nationwide effort to protect members of the legal profession.
“The disturbing and increasing frequency of lawyer killings can no longer be ignored,” the IBP said.
The group said they will continue to cooperate with the Supreme Court, the DOJ, the National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP to address and arrest the rising attacks against its members.
“Lawyers are mandated to strive for justice and they must be able to do so without fear of reprisal or violence. Our country cannot attain true independence and freedom when conformity is extracted by fear and criticism silenced by force,” the group said.
Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) called for an immediate investigation into Macababbad’s killing.
In 2015, Macababbad was sued with a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) after local mass movements he was part barricaded the aerial spraying facilities of Sumifru’s banana plantation.
Along with local politicians in South Cotabato, he also opposed the coal mining applications of DM Consunji invading the Daguma mountain range
“The news of Atty. Macababbad’s death came just days after the Philippines was declared Asia’s deadliest country for environmental defenders like him eight years in a row,” said Kalikasan PNE Coordinator Leon Dulce.
According to the report of Global Witness released days before Macababbad’s killing, there have been 167 killings of environmental defenders from 2017 to 2020 under the Duterte administration.
“That’s why it is extremely urgent to enact policies such as House Bill (HB) 8170 or the Environmental Defenders Bill that grants protection mechanisms and various remedies to human rights abuses against environmental defenders,” said Dulce.
HB 8170 was filed last December 2020 by representatives of Bayan Muna Partylist from the Makabayan bloc.