Surigao lawyers protest attacks on colleagues

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/09 February) — Lawyers in Surigao del Norte on Thursday held a protest here demanding justice for their colleagues who were attacked recently by still unknown gunmen.

Last February 2, retired Regional Trial Court judge Victor A. Canoy was gunned down in Burgos Street, this city.

Four days after, a gunman shot City Prosecutor Manuel N. Tesiorna Jr. outside his house in Barangay Canlanipa this city. He sustained four gunshot wounds in different parts of his body. On Tuesday morning, he was airlifted to Cebu City for further treatment.

Lawyers hold a protest action in Surigao City on Thursday (Feb. 9, 2017) to demand justice for the death of retired judge Victor Canoy and the frustrated murder attempt on City Prosecutor Manuel Tesiorna Jr. Photo by Roel Catoto

“We are making this statement to make our voices heard, not only by the local authorities but by the national level authorities as well. We are calling that all those responsible to the senseless attack against retired Regional Trial Court Judge Victor A. Canoy and against City Prosecutor Manuel N. Tesiorna, Jr. be brought to justice,” said Atty. Noel Pangilinan, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines–Surigao del Norte.

The local IBP chapter believed the victims were targeted because they were handling drug cases.

Shortly after the shooting of Tesiorna, all lawyers in the province agreed to withdraw their representations in all drug cases..

“Police hit list”

As early as October 2016, lawyers were already warned supposedly by some police officers that Canoy and Tesiorna were the top three targets in a “police hit list”.

“This could have been a baseless paranoia regarding conspiracy theory. But then, unthinkable as it is, it actually happened. Thus, the lawyer lost no time in placing himself into safety by leaving Surigao City to an undisclosed location,” Pangilinan said.

“As a matter of fact, City Prosecutor Tesiorna was also forewarned about the ‘hit list’ but he simply shrugged it off saying he has nothing to fear as he has not done anything wrong.

“However, last Sunday, the day before he was attacked, he accordingly noticed some figures shadowing him, prompting him to request for security detail at the Provincial Police Office . On that fateful day, the security detail was accordingly on his way to the residence of City Prosecutor Tesiorna but was a few minutes too late,” he said.

“These incidents, taken altogether, somehow confirm that the spate of attacks against lawyers is work related,” he added.

Police provincial director Senior Supt. Antony Maghari confirmed that Tesiorna had asked for a security detail.

“Stop the attack against lawyers. Lawyers are not the enemy. Killing lawyers will not in any way deter or diminish the evil sought to be avoided by our government. On the contrary, it will undermine the stability of our justice system. Let the rule of law be upheld at all times,” Pangilinan said in a manifesto.

Atty. Alfonso S. Casurra, vice mayor of Surigao City claimed his name is on the supposed hit list.

“I am concerned for my safety as well. I could have left Surigao just like other colleagues in the legal profession who were scared to death and have gone hiding. I opted to stay in the city because I have a call of duty to our constituents. But if they shot me down, I will leave my life up to God,” a teary-eyed Casurra said.

“How would your family feel if you’re killed now for being suspected as a protector of drug suspects? Many cases will be dismissed due to irregularities by corrupt police officers. Those who can’t give bribes will be arrested,” he said in Surigaonon.

The vice mayor lambasted City Mayor Ernesto T. Matugas for issuing “insensitive statements” on the series of attacks against lawyers.

Casurra emphasized they support the campaign against illegal drugs in the city but not the killings.

Matugas said on RPN-DXKS on Tuesday that he was proven right when in 2014 he asked lawyers to desist from handling drug cases, and reiterated such call.

“He made an insensitive statement; a great insult to the legal profession,” Casurra said, adding the accused in drug cases have the constitutional right to avail of the services of lawyers.

Atty. Noel Christian Catre, a city councilor, told the crowd during the rally that his dad, Atty. Noel Catre, has gone hiding as well.

“An amount of 400,000 pesos is allotted for my father’s head. The allegations against him came from police officers who belong to syndicates are not true,” Catre said.

The elder Catre is a former vice governor of Surigao del Norte.

Lawyer Jose Begil Jr., chairperson of Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao said he strongly condemned the attacks on his colleagues.

“This dastardly acts allegedly perpetrated by rouge cops should be condemned,” he said.

“Who will protect the human rights of people against the abuses by those who are in power,” he said.

“My beloved President. I’m a Dutertard even before you run for president, please do not fail me this time. We support your policy, and I do not regret voting and fighting for you. But I know and you know that there are loopholes in your war against illegal drugs. We have already felt your so-called collateral damage. This has to stop. Cleanse Surigao City. Verify your intelligence seven times more and discipline these rogue cops in Surigao if there is any,” opined lawyer Sheldon Esparrago.

Maghari told MindaNews in a phone interview on Tuesday that they have identified “persons of interest” in relation to the killing of Canoy and the slay attempt on Tesiorna.

Maghari said the PNP was still conducting a thorough investigation of the spate of killings in Surigao City.

The protest started this morning outside the IBP office and culminated at Luneta Park in Surigao City.

Law students of San Sebastian College of Law in Surigao City, dozens of college students, court employees, civil society groups and the transport group PISTON-Surigao joined the protest. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)