2017 was the year of the epiphany for the Filipino people. Slowly, we have unmasked the illusion of change that this government vowed to deliver. We have realized that the change that came was not the change we have constantly hoped for.
Human rights violations are on the rise. Our children are being killed every night, murdered by state forces and their proxies carrying unbridled licenses to kill induced or goaded no less than the President in his anti-drug campaign gone berserk. The death toll is rising and not one is held credibly accountable for this wanton and widespread state-sponsored slaughter.
Instead of change, we are witnesses to the flickering and dimming of the lights of freedom and democracy across the country. The House of Representatives has been perceived to have by and large betrayed its supposed independence and compromised its claim to credibility by exercising legislative power to forward the interest of the administration and not of the people. Institutions and constitutional bodies tasked to provide checks and balances are under constant threat, hence, the move to impeach Chief Justice Sereno and Ombudsman Carpio-Morales. The prospects for peace faded with the government shutting down the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front coupled with the impending threat to crack down on government critics. Martial law is being extended in Mindanao despite the lack of legal and cogent factual basis. The state of human rights in the country became a cause for concern globally. Worsening poverty continues to cripple millions of Filipino families to the bone.
What Marcos did in two decades under martial law, President Duterte has done more than half of it in just one year into power. Imagine the impunity. Imagine the tyranny.
But the Filipino people shall not go gently amidst the dying of the light. And so are the peoples’ lawyers.
In 2017, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), which is at present the biggest national association of pro bono courageous and consistent human rights lawyers, marked its 10th founding anniversary. For 10 intense years, peoples’ lawyers from the NUPL fought side by side with the Filipino people in the struggle for justice and peace and genuine change.
NUPL served as counsel and assisted urban poor families at the height of the rampant demolition of urban poor communities in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, such as the Occupy action in Pandi, Bulacan. The NUPL continue to prosecute the cases against the military in the disappearance of Jonas Burgos and UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. The NUPL has not given up the battle to bring Mary Jane Veloso home to her family by prosecuting the cases against her recruiters in the Philippines. NUPL continues to represent political prisoners who are slapped with trumped-up or false charges.
The NUPL likewise brought the matter of the imposition of martial law in Mindanao before the Supreme Court and actively participated during the oral arguments. It is poised to assail its extension even as it will question the anti-poor TRAIN tax law.
Together with other lawyers, law practitioners, law professors and students, NUPL spearheaded the formation of MANLABAN sa EJKs, a broad formation of legal luminaries and law students against extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in the country. On its own, NUPL raised a howl of protest long before others, quickly questioned draconian measures in relation to the so-called drug war and is prosecuting identified perpetrators of the cold-blooded murders.
Apart from providing legal assistance and services, the NUPL actively and publicly spoke on pro-people issues and other issues of national importance. The NUPL brought its human rights advocacy and campaign both locally and internationally as it participated in international gatherings and conferences in many parts of the world in 2017 which prompted international lawyers groups such as the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) and the Confederation of Lawyers in Asia and the Pacific (COLAP) to issue their position on the worsening human rights situation in the country.
2018 will, indeed, be a challenging year for the country and for the Filipino people. The NUPL will continue to be one with the people’s struggle for justice and genuine change. We will remain undaunted and be out there on the ground and in the trenches, as it were.
As we have unmasked the face of the tyrant, so shall we fight the tyranny.