Violence committed against lawyers. judges, and other judicial officials is a direct assault on the rule of law, justice, freedom, and democracy.
The unsavory reputation or ideological leanings of certain legal practitioners and judicial officers do not justify violent acts or, worst, extreme injury with an intent to permanently silence them.
It would truly be a gross understatement to say that such acts have a chilling effect on the legal profession and the judicial institutions.
Indeed, if legal experts and judicial authorities are fair game to assassins or hired guns, imagine the effect on ordinary, marginally protected citizens.
Thus, we fully agree with and strongly support Sen. Imee R. Marcos in calling for an investigation into the alarming deaths and disappearances of members of the legal community.
Marcos said that “in recent months, the entire legal community has been shocked by the successive assaults committed against members of the bar, leading to serious harm, disappearances, and, for some, their untimely death”.
In filing Senate Resolution 593, the lady lawmaker cited five deaths and two disappearances this year, which she said caused grave concern that must be taken up by the proper Senate committee.
Last January 9, former Batangas representative and lawyer Edgar Mendoza, together with his driver and bodyguard, were found lifeless in a burned vehicle in Tiaong, Quezon. A money dispute between Mendoza and his client Sherwin Punzalan was allegedly the motive behind the gruesome crime.
The ambush of Camarines Sur Regional Trial Court Judge Jeaneth Gaminde-San Joaquin and the deaths of Manila RTC Judge Maria Teresa Abadilla, lawyers Eric Jay Magcamit, and Joey Luis Wee also shocked not only the legal community but the whole country.
Former Court of Appeals justice Normandie Pizarro and more recently lawyer Ryan Oliva have been reported missing with no leads of their whereabouts as of press time.
“The entire legal community, in various fora, have expressed their dismay, condemnation, and fear for these rampant and vicious attacks against members of the bar and other court officers who seem to escape with impunity,” Marcos said.
She added that “while these are independent cases, there is a need to look at the common threads that make one interconnected with the others, as these involve individuals who are tasked with the administration of justice and in upholding the rule of law”.
“Let us not wait for another crime committed against the respected members of the legal community before we take action on these unfortunate events,” she stressed.
Earlier, two of Marcos’ colleagues proposed a new marshal service specifically for the personal protection of Judiciary officials.
Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson has filed a bill creating the Philippine Judicial Marshal Service to safeguard the Judiciary, by securing its officers and personnel so they can do their jobs independently and without fear of retaliation.
Lacson’s bill also seeks to mandate the PJMS to investigate allegations of irregularities, including graft and corruption, committed by justices, judges, court officials and personnel. The PJMS would also assist in the execution and implementation of court orders.
Earlier, Sen. Richard J. Gordon also filed a proposed bill creating an independent arm that would ensure the security of the judiciary entitled, “An Act Creating the Philippine Marshal Service Under the Control and Supervision of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Appropriating Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes”.
Gordon’s proposed law, also known as Senate Bill 1181, aims to establish the Philippine Marshal Service, a unit that would protect the lives of the members of the Judiciary and will assist in the administration of justice.
In filing his version of the measure, Lacson noted no less than Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta stressed the need for judicial marshals to serve as the law enforcement arm of the Court, similar to the Supreme Court of the United States Police and the US Marshal Service.
He noted at least 31 reported killings of members of the Judiciary in the last two decades, including five during the Duterte administration.
Meanwhile, Gordon’s proposal came following Peralta’s previous statement that he envisions a judicial security force, patterned after the USMS.
He earlier expressed concern over the high number of murder cases involving the Judiciary in the country.
According to the Philippine Judges Association, a total of 31 judges have been killed from January 1999 up to August this year.
Ninety percent of them were RTC judges, and only 10 percent of the cases have been solved.