Urgent Call to Action: Government intervention crucial in halting rampant killings

Just when we thought the wave of killings was subsiding, a gruesome murder shocked Abra province last week. Ma. Saniata Liwliwa Gonzales Alzate, a lawyer and advocate for the disadvantaged, was brutally gunned down in front of her home. The killers, riding motorcycles, showed no fear, even allowing themselves to be caught on CCTV. This callous act is made even more tragic by Alzate’s dedication to providing legal aid to those who couldn’t afford it. She was a strong and compassionate lawyer who fought for justice and stood up for the underprivileged.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines president in Abra, Alzate was highly respected within the legal community. Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin expressed his grief, stating that Alzate’s murder was a tragedy for Abra and the legal profession. He promised that law enforcement agencies would work tirelessly to apprehend the culprits. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla also assured the public that progress was being made in the investigation.

However, it’s crucial not to forget the other lawyers who lost their lives under the current administration, as well as the numerous unsolved cases. The culture of violence and impunity must be addressed to prevent further tragic deaths. According to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, since the restoration of democracy in 1986, 133 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors have been killed. During the Duterte administration, at least 59 individuals were murdered as part of the government’s sanctioned policy of Red-tagging and its aggressive drug war.

The Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao drew attention to the unsettling resemblance between Alzate’s killing and the case of Juan Macababbad, a vice-chair of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao. Macababbad was also gunned down by motorcycle-riding assailants, and his murder remains unresolved. Shockingly, only seven out of the numerous lawyer killings from 2004 to 2021 have led to charges being filed.

In response to the alarming spike in attacks against lawyers and judges, the Supreme Court issued a powerful condemnation in March 2021. The court directed lower courts to assist in the investigation of these assaults, acknowledging that such attacks undermine the rule of law. It also emphasized the need to protect members of the judiciary. The Judiciary Marshals Act of 2021 was enacted to provide security and investigate allegations of corruption within the legal profession.

Despite these measures, unknown assailants continue to prey on lawyers and other individuals. It is vital that swift and thorough prosecution takes place. However, it is equally important to identify and hold accountable the masterminds behind these killings, not just the gunmen. Only then can we hope to stem the tide of violence that plagues our society.

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