Former IBP Presidents in Davao City: “we are still a democracy and the rule of law should prevail”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 December) – “Making derisive public accusations without filing any case will never result to getting any justice. The truly guilty will not be punished and the unjustly accused will not have any hope of being cleared. We are still a democracy and the rule of law should prevail,” six former Presidents of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ (IBP) Davao City chapter said

In a statement titled “A Government of Laws and not of Men,” the

group cautioned government officials from making public accusations without backing these up with evidences.

The statement did not name President Rodrigo Duterte or former IBP Davao City President Carlos Isagani Zarate but was issued in reaction to Duterte’s singling out of Zarate in his televised and livestreamed November 30 ‘Talk to the People on COVID-19.’

Duterte declared the Makabayan bloc which includes Bayan Muna and Gabriela, among others, as members of a “grand conspiracy” to overthrow the government. He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines is “very correct. You are being identified as the members of the communist. Alam namin. Iyon ang totoo. Hindi red-tagging yan.”

He singled out fellow Mindanawon and fellow lawyer Zarate,  now on his third term as Bayan Muna Representative, calling him “friends with the NPA.. co-conspirators, komunista ka” and warning him “bantay ka sa akin” (you better watch out). On December 7, Duterte again singled out Zarate. The act of a soldier of the New People’s Army, he said, is “the act of Zarate, a congressman.”

Zarate was IBP Davao City chapter president from 2003 to 2005.
No statement has been issued by the incumbent officials of the IBP Davao City chapter.

The statement of  the former IBP Davao City chapter presidents, dated December 4, was signed by Ramon Edison Batacan, President from 2001 to 2003 and Governor of IBP Eastern Mindanao from 2007 to 2009;  Caesar Europa, President from 2005 to 2007 and Governor of IBP Eastern Mindanao from 2015 to 2017;  Manuel Quibod, President from 2007 to 2009; Socorro Ermac-Cabreros, President from 2009 to 2011; Jonathan Jocon, President from 2011 to 2013; and Jose Edgar Ilagan, President from 2013 to 2015.

Quibod is Dean of the Ateneo de Davao College of Law.

Tangible evidence

The six said they support government’s drives against criminality
“including, of course, operations against any group conducting, or espousing, an armed insurgency against the state,” that there are laws punishing those who commit rebellion , coup d’etat and even any kind of conspiracy to commit the same, that those found by the courts to be guilty of violating these laws are criminals and should be punished as such, but stressed that violators should be prosecuted and penalized in accordance with our laws.

Quoting  US President John Adams’ “ours is a government of laws and not of men,” the group added that for democracy to remain as such, “laws must be applied equally and fairly to all people and not upon the whims of those who wield power.”

“When the government, particularly its enforcement arm, the police and the military, makes public accusations that a person, or a group of persons, are rebels, or are conspiring with rebels towards an armed overthrow of the government, it does not make it true,” the lawyers said.

“What will make it true, if they really have tangible evidence to prove these accusations, is for the police or military to file cases against these people or groups so that our courts can look into it and punish those who are guilty and clear those who are not,” they said.

Davao Three, 1985

Thirty-five years earlier, lawyers’ associations in Davao City were quick to stand  up to defend their colleagues from the Marcos dictatorship’s red-tagging efforts.

In Mindanao, where most of the human rights violations were recorded under Marcos’ martial law, several lawyers risked their lives to defend the victims against abuses of state forces. They were the lawyers of the victims, they defended political detainees and in street protests, made sure the rights of the protesters were protected.

Referred to as ‘human rights lawyers,’ they were red-tagged by the Marcos military and three of them, from this city, were arrested and detained: Laurente Ilagan, Marcos Risonar, Jr. and Antonio Arellano, days after a Mindanao-wide Welgang Bayan (general strike).

Ilagan was arrested in the morning of  May 10, 1985  on the basis of a Preventive Detention Action allegedly issued by the Ministry of National Defense.  On the same day, 15 lawyers from the IBP Davao City chapter visited Ilagan in Camp Catitipan (now Camp Quintin M. Merecido) but only 14 returned home as Arellano was arrested and detained on the basis of an unsigned Mission Order.

Three days later,  the military sent word to the IBP chapter that Risonar would likewise be arrested. Risonar went to Camp Catitipan with then IBP Davao President Jesus Dureza, to verify his arrest papers and was detained on the basis of a Mission Order signed by the Regional Unified Commander.

The three were members of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy (NAJFD), and Concerned Lawyers’ Union of Mindanao (COLUMN).  Ilagan was Bayan-Mindanao chair, Arellano was its Secretary-General and Risonar was NAJFD Secretary-General.

They were at the forefront of street protests and Mindanao-wide Welgang Bayan while defending political prisoners and victims of human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship. Their organizations were dubbed by the military as fronts of the CPP-NPA.

The three lawyers filed a petition for habeas corpus. Their co-petitioners were the IBP, FLAG, and Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism, Inc. The Marcos-controlled Supreme Court dismissed the petition “for having become moot and academic ” as the lawyers were now detained by virtue of a warrant of arrest issued by the Regional Trial Court of Davao City in the criminal case for rebellion filed against them in the same court.

The three political detainees were freed after People Power booted out the Marcoses in 1986 but they inspired many young Mindanawons to follow their path, among them Zarate, who would later join the law firm of Ilagan.

Ilagan often told aspiring law students that a lawyer could do only either of two things in life: to work to become rich, or to serve the ends of justice. “There’s nothing in between,” he said.

Ilagan ang Risonar succumbed to cancer in 2001 and 2017, respectively. Arellano sent no reply when asked to comment on the red-tagging of  Zarate.

“Open season”

Lawyer Mary-Ann Arnado, Secretary-General of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, said Zarate “is a highly respected colleague in the legal profession” who is a “consistent human rights lawyer and a hard-working, honest and incorruptible legislator.”

“Every citizen is entitled to his own political beliefs and whatever color you have – red, yellow, black or blue does not turn you into a criminal or an enemy of the state. For God sake. Please go after the real security threats to this country,” Arnado posted on her Facebook page last week.

Zarate finished his law studies at the Ateneo de Davao College of Law and passed the bar in 1995.  He taught several Law subjects in the same school.  Zarate is a member of the Tau Mu Fraternity where he was Grand Archon. He served as President of the IBP-Davao City chapter from 2003 to 2005 and was founding Secretary-General of the Union of Peoples Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) in 2005 and Chair in 2014.

Antonio La Viña, former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and Law professor, Duterte’s red-tagging of the Makabayan bloc and singling out Zarate is “dangerous (as) it can be interpreted by rogue military or police elements as open season on Congressman Zarate. “

Duterte’s statements, the lawyer from Cagayan de Oro said, “do not have any judicial or legal value as (they are) not based on evidence” but “from a practical point of view, it is a prejudgment by your chief enforcement official and so a violation of due process.”

“Clear and present danger”

Romeo Cabarde, Director of the Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy and one of the spokespersons of Alisto!, a citizens’ platform  launched on December 1 where citizens can report violations and abuses related to the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 said the President’s tirade against Zarate “is exactly what we, in Alisto!, are apprehensive about — red-tagging, red-baiting, and terrorist-tagging are sanctioned and made acceptable under the Anti-Terror Act.”

“If a sitting member of the House of Representatives can be can be treated poorly in public, how much more for ordinary citizens, particularly those who do not have access to the means of defending themselves?” Cabarde said, adding that many Mindanawon farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, and Bangsamoro “have found themselves in such a situation, where they are unfairly charged and their rights and safety put at risk.”

In a statement, the UPLM said the “insistent red-tagging officially done by no less than the President poses a clear and present danger on the lives of Zarate and all human rights lawyers and defenders.”

It recalled that a number of  red-tagged lawyers ended up dead like Benjamin Ramos and Anthony Trinidad, who were among 53 lawyers, prosecutors and judges killed under the Duterte administration since 2016.

“A threat on Zarate is a grave threat on all legislators who are fulfilling their mandate and on all human rights defenders who remain true to their lawyers’ oath. These threats are glaring violations of rights under our Philippine Constitution and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the statement read.. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)