MANILA, Philippines – To help hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) will now assist victims through the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
On Friday, November 24, CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon and IBP President Abdiel Fajardo signed a memorandum of agreement which will enable IBP to provide free legal aid to underprivileged individuals who have suffered abuses – whether or not in relation to President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. (READ: Human Rights Summit: Lawyers go all out vs war on drugs)
“As the national organization for lawyers, we must ensure that the marginalized and the powerless sectors of society have access to justice,” Fajardo explained, adding that it is the basic duty of an organization to “protect basic rights, the right to life.
The free legal aid will include court appearances, draft pleadings, and writing of letters in behalf of the client.
Gascon lauded the new partnership, adding that this will help the CHR which is facing setbacks due to limited resources.
“Ito ay isang welcome development sa amin dahil makakabuo kami ng iba’t ibang partnerships with law groups sa pamumuno po ng IBP para tugunan ang iba’t ibang mga human rights violations whether this be in relation to the campaign of the government against drugs or in relation to other contexts,” he said on the sidelines of a Human Rights Summit organized by IBP and other law groups.
(This is a welcome development for us because we will be able to build different partnerships with law groups, led by the IBP, to respond to human rights violations whether this be in relation to the campaign against illegal drugs or in relation to other contexts.)
Around 3,967 suspected drug personalities have been killed during police operations as of October 25, while the number of those killed by vigilantes has been hotly contested.
Latest data, however, shows that the CHR is currently handling a little over 1,000 cases of killings in relation to the drug war.
In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND), meanwhile, said the involvement of IBP with its current 60,000-membership now “sends forth a ripple of hope in these troubling and violent crimes besetting our country.” (READ: Lawyers do dirty groundwork to fight Duterte’s drug war)
“It gives us optimism that the human rights community is not alone in the fight against impunity and the guarantee of equality before the law,” Rosa Trajano of iDEFEND said. “You are not only needed in the legal front but in all aspects of human rights work.”
“We must swim against whatever tide takes us away from serving our people,” she added.
The call comes as Duterte said he would bring back the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the drug war.
Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have warned that the return of the PNP can bring more "bloodshed and deaths".
Some senators expressed concern over the PNP's return to the drug war and said they hoped they would learn from their past mistakes. (READ: CHR's Gascon reiterates concern over 'sense of impunity' in PH) – Rappler.com