Lawyers unite for civil liberties

Yesterday, many lawyers, law organizations, and law students came together in the national office of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to relaunch a movement that was last active in 2006—the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL). This is a revival of the broadest network of lawyers and law students ever formed during the height of protests against the anti-people policies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006 such as the Emergency Rule, Executive Order 464, the Calibrated Preemptive Response policy, extrajudicial killings, as well as electoral fraud and the NBN ZTE deal.

The network is being relaunched because of a collective realization that political repression is back in our country, that we are in the brink of what I described last Saturday in this column of another long, dark night of authoritarian rule, this time under President Duterte.

The irony was not lost on us that we were relaunching CLCL on Sept. 23, the anniversary of the Marcos announcement that he had put the whole country under martial law in 1972. In that terrible episode of our country’s history, one of the few organizations that stood up against Marcos was the revered Civil Liberties Union (CLU). I remember how as a very young person, as a teenager in fact, how inspired I was reading the CLU statements signed by the likes of Renato Constantino, Hernando Abaya, but especially human rights icon and lawyer Pepe Diokno who chaired CLU in the crucial years of 1975-1980 when repression was at its worst.

As the convening group, which includes me, articulated in our invitation to yesterday’s gathering, there is a need again for lawyers and law students opposed to the continuing violation of the people’s civil liberties and constitutional rights to revive the CLCL and organize similar networks of groups and personalities with similar objectives.

The following organizations have agreed to join CLCL: Artikulo Tres, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP),  Manananggol Laban sa Extra-judicial Killings (Manlaban sa EJK) and the  National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).

My fellow convenors include: Anna Maria D. Abad (Dean, Adamson University College of Law); Dean Pacifico A. Agabin (former Dean, University of the Philippines College of Law); Jejomar “Jojo” C. Binay (Artikulo Tres; former Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines); Jose Anselmo “Joel” I. Cadiz (former Solicitor General and National President of the IBP); Domingo Egon Q. Cayosa (National President, IBP) ; Hilda S. Clave (Artikulo Tres); Neri J. Colmenares (Chairman, NUPL);

Jose Manuel “Chel” I. Diokno (founding Dean, La Salle University College of Law) ; Anacleto III “Jojo” A. Lacanilao; Marlon J. Manuel (Namati); 

Edre U. Olalia (President, NUPL); Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio (Dean, University of Cebu College of Law); Manuel Quibod (Dean, Ateneo de Davao College of Law and former President, IBP-Davao chapter); 

Ray Paolo “Arpee” S. Santiago (Executive Director, Ateneo Human Rights Center); and

Lorenzo III “Erin” R. Tañada (former Member of the House of Representatives).

Former Senator Rene Saguisag and Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon also attended the launch and conveyed their full support.

Considering that many issues that beset the country have weighty legal implications, the role of lawyers and law students cannot be overemphasized. We need to stand with the people by being a part of the struggle to defend civil liberties and people’s rights. Below is our Statement of Unity and Commitment:

“Not since the dark years of Martial Law have our civil liberties and fundamental rights been threatened and blatantly violated with such brazen impunity.

Today we are witness to daily extrajudicial killings, “weaponization” of the law by systematic filing of false charges, vicious vilification of people’s organizations, critics and the opposition, co-optation of other formal democratic institutions in order to undermine their independence, and the general disregard of civil liberties and constitutional rights on many fronts by the current administration.

Truth, civil liberties, constitutional rights and justice have been the casualties. Thousands of poor drug suspects, activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, religious, media, indigenous peoples and other victims die under the most violent administration in our history.

The state of impunity has worsened as venues for legal remedies or judicial redress against those who arrogantly trample on our rights are essentially ineffective or frustrating to the victims.

Repressive laws and trumped-up charges are being employed against any opposition and more repressive laws and issuances are being peddled. Absurd legal arguments are invented in disregard of human rights, legal principles and laws. Baseless arguments to disregard international institutions such as UN bodies to avoid any investigation for official acts are employed. Even our victory against China in an international tribunal is disregarded through a subservient, sell-out foreign policy.

Members of the legal profession have the duty to help in the administration of justice, uphold the “rule of law” and defend constitutional rights. All these are under attack today. It is therefore imperative that members of the legal profession and law students unite to defend civil liberties and constitutional rights from the relentless onslaught under the current administration.

We are here today, as members of the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL), to signify our commitment to live up to our duty to defend civil liberties and constitutional rights and uphold justice.We commit to unite with the victims of violations of constitutional rights and work tirelessly to help in defending the rights of the Filipino people from the threat of tyranny today. We commit to oppose any imposition of martial rule as well as repressive measures that violate the constitutional rights of the Filipino people.

Specifically, we commit to:

(i) Organize lawyers and law students to express opposition to policies and actions that violate constitutional rights and civil liberties;

(ii) Come out with statements and legal positions on major issues and provide legal support to the people;

(iii) Raise awareness and organize forums on various issues in various law schools and the public;

(iv) Hold protest actions to oppose repressive policies; and

(v) Help in the formation of a broad people’s movement for the protection and promotion of human dignity, human rights, and civil liberties.

Today, the specter of tyranny plagues the nation. Not since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship has the call “NEVER AGAIN!” been as potent and urgent as it rings today.

Lawyers and law students unite. Uphold civil liberties and constitutional rights!”

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