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Int’l group in Philippines to investigate killing of lawyers

An international delegation has arrived in Manila to investigate the killing of lawyers in the country, days after the March 13 murder of Rex Jasper Lopoz in Tagum City, Davao del Norte, brought to 38 the number of lawyers killed since President Duterte assumed office in 2016.

The delegation is composed of lawyers from six countries—Belgium, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and the United States—who are tasked with interviewing survivors, victims’ relatives, government agencies, judges and prosecutors until Monday.

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Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), which is hosting the delegation, said the group came to the country on their own initiative after the killing in November last year of founding NUPL member Benjamin Tarug Ramos in Negros Occidental.

“When he was killed, a lot of condemnation came in, and some of them asked, ‘Is there anything we can do? Can we come down and check what the real situation is?’” Olalia said.

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Focus on 15 cases

Various lawyers’ groups are represented in the delegation, including the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Union of International Advocates and Day of Endangered Lawyers Foundation.

Olalia said the group would investigate 15 recent killings that had occurred throughout Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao by speaking with lawyers themselves who had survived near-death situations or the families of those who had been slain.

The group will also speak with the Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Supreme Court and Commission on Human Rights, Olalia said.

“They will look into the connection, if there is any, with the attacks and the kind of work [the victims] performed as lawyers,” he added. “They will look into the motives of the attacks. They will try to look into the status of the cases of investigations, if there is any at all.”

Olalia said the delegation would conduct its interviews without any NUPL members present to ensure “freedom and confidentiality.”

Initial findings are expected from the group by Monday, while a full report will ultimately be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council, International Criminal Court, and other international organizations.

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‘Killed in drug war’

The elder brother of Lopoz, who was slain on Wednesday by still-unidentified gunmen, said his brother was a victim of impunity spawned by the government’s war on drugs. Arvin Dexter Lopoz, also a lawyer and a former provincial legislator in Compostela Valley, made the claim hours after he learned of his brother’s death.

Second to die

“Just an hour ago, they killed my younger brother,” the lawyer posted on his Facebook page. “Dead on arrival at the hospital. Killed in the Duterte drug war. Summarily killed. Again, by riding-in-tandem killers,” Arvin said in his post.

Arvin said Rex was a “dyed-in-the-wool activist” who recruited the youth in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley, for the League of Filipino Students, a militant youth group, and Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, a Church-based militant group.

Arvin said Rex was the second lawyer in the family to die in what they consider to be summary killings.

He said a cousin, Rolando Lopoz Acido, was murdered by motorcycle-riding assailants in front of the Mati City Hall of Justice in Dahican in October 2016. Acido was a former lawyer at the Department of Agrarian Reform “who served the poorest of farmers in Davao Oriental, at times even spending his own money for the cases of his clients.”

He recalled that when Acido was appointed government prosecutor, he rejected pressures and intervention from other government officials.

“Two lawyers in the family killed in the time of PDigong (President Duterte) administration shows impunity at its worst,” Arvin said.

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