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Public Statement: Philippines (April 2019)

The Law Society of Ontario expresses grave concern about the murder of lawyer Rex Jasper Lopoz
 
Toronto, ON — The Law Society of Ontario expresses grave concern over the murder of lawyer Rex Jasper Lopoz. When reports of serious issues of injustice to lawyers and the judiciary come to our attention, we advocate for the protection of their inalienable human rights.
 
Rex Jasper Lopoz was a lawyer who had been representing defendants in drug-related cases in the Philippines. Reports state that he was shot and killed outside of a shopping mall in Tagum City, Davao del Norte, on March 13, 2019 by unidentified individuals.
 
Rex Jasper Lopoz is the 38th lawyer to have been killed in the Philippines since the start of the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.  According to credible reports, his family believes that he was killed because of his work representing the accused in drug cases, and that his murder is connected to the anti-drugs campaign of the current administration. 
 
The Law Society expressed its deep concern over the murder of lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who represented clients and their families targeted by the government, and 33 other lawyers in the Philippines. In our December 2018 statement, we urged President Rodrigo Duterte to, among other things, immediately conduct a fair and independent investigation into the murders, and ensure that all lawyers in the Philippines can carry out their professional duties without fear of reprisals, physical violence, death or other human rights violations.
 
Members of the legal profession and the judiciary in the Philippines, including Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), have condemned the killing of Rex Jasper Lopoz. According to reports, IBP President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo stated that Rex Jasper Lopoz' death is the latest incident of a recent series of violence against lawyers, and that lawyers, prosecutors and judges are being targeted with increasing frequency and impunity. These murders are among the thousands of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte took office.      
 
Credible reports indicate that President Rodrigo Duterte has suggested in the past that the killing of people suspected of using and selling drugs will not be punished, and that such calls have encouraged police and armed civilians to commit murder with impunity. As we have stated in our previous intervention, we again implore the president to publicly denounce these acts of violence.
 
The Law Society of Ontario is seriously concerned by credible reports of Rex Jasper Lopoz’s death and urges the Philippines to comply with its obligations under international human rights laws, including the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
Article 16 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states:
 
Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economics or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
 
Article 17 states:
 
Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.
 
Article 18 states:
 
Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.
 
Further, Article 23 states:
 
Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization.
 
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
 
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
 
The Law Society urges the Government of the Philippines to:

  1. immediately conduct a fair, impartial and independent investigation into the murder of Rex Jasper Lopoz in order to identify all those responsible, bring them to trial and apply to them civil, penal and/or administrative sanctions provided by law;
  2. put an end to all acts of violence against lawyers and judges in the Philippines;
  3. ensure that all lawyers and judges in the Philippines are adequately safeguarded by the authorities such that they are able to carry out their professional duties and activities free from intimidation, hindrance, harassment, improper interference, the threat of criminalization or other human rights violations; and
  4. ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.