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Judges under the gun
[January 07, 2006]

Judges under the gun

(Philippine Daily Inquirer Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)THE MURDER OF JUDGE HENRICK GINGOYON OF THE PASAY CITY REGIONAL Trial Court on Dec. 31, 2005 highlights the perilous work of lawyers, especially those who defend victims of human rights violations. Gingoyon is the 10th judge to be killed in the country over the past six years.

Besides Gingoyon, seven lawyers were killed in 2005. The previous year, three judges and three lawyers were murdered.

Since President Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001, 11 lawyers have been killed, according to Counsels for the Defense of Liberties.

The Supreme Court notes that nearly all of the country's magistrates handling drug cases and heinous crimes have received death threats.

Even Supreme Court justices have not been spared the threats. Acid was thrown at the car of then Justice Artemio Panganiban on two occasions, and a black funeral wreath was delivered at the home of Justice Romeo Callejo Sr.

The murders and death threats clearly show the breakdown of law and order in the country.

No wonder, international lawyers' groups have declared the Philippines one of the world's most dangerous places for members of the legal profession.

They personify rule of law, embody its majesty

By Ismael G. Khan Jr.

THE MURDER OF JUDGE Henrick Gingoyon of the Pasay Regional Trial Court on that chilly morning before the advent of the New Year should serve as a hot-button reminder to our law enforcement authorities that they have yet to come up with a credible solution to the murders of nine other judges in the last six years alone.

Clearly, the number of fatalities is unacceptable to the members of the bench who are sworn to champion the rule of law and even-handed administration of justice. This prompted newly appointed Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban to prod the police to redouble their efforts in solving these crimes so that the perpetrators of what amounts to the commission of an injustice against our judges do not get away with it.

He said, "when injustice is committed against judges, it's very important that justice be given to them. Otherwise, how can the judges be expected to give justice to the people if justice to them is not attended to?"


In fact, around three years ago, the Supreme Court had expressed its undue apprehension over the apparent inability of both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to provide adequate security and protection to the nation's judges following the killing of Tayug RTC Judge Oscar Uson.

His car was peppered with bullets as it crossed a short bridge in Asingan, Pangasinan on Sept. 27, 2002. An emergency meeting was convened by then Acting Chief Justice Josue N. Bellosillo with NBI and PNP top brass who vowed to keep the nation's 2,214 magistrates safe and secure. They also promised to solve three cases involving the killing of Eastern Samar RTC Judge Celso Lorenzo, Ilocos Norte RTC Judge Ariston Rubio, and Compostella Valley RTC Judge Eugenio Valles.

It's probably a cruel indictment of our law enforcement capability to note that these crimes remain among the "cold cases" in the PNP and NBI morgues. "Coldest" among them, sad to say, is the brazen murder of Judge Isaac S. Puno of the Manila Court of First Instance in the late '70s. Judge Puno was an elder brother of Senior Associate Justice Reynato S. Puno.

Threats for breakfast

Former Quezon City RTC Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago claimed that she ate death threats for breakfast. That bit of hyperbole does emphasize the fact that death threats and physical intimidation come with the territory. Nearly all of the country's magistrates handling drug cases and heinous crimes have at one time or another been the recipients of such morbid reminders of their vulnerability to murder and mayhem.

Incumbent justices of the Supreme Court have not been spared these threats. Then Associate Justice Panganiban had been so "reminded" when deadly acid was thrown at his car on two different occasions by parties who remain unknown and at large to this day. Not more than two years ago, a black funeral wreath with the word "condolences" was delivered at the front doorsteps of Justice Romeo J. Callejo, Sr.'s house in Quezon City shortly after he had penned the Court's decision on the Kuratong-Baleleng case.

It certainly behooves the government to do its best to put these judicial terrorists behind bars before the country earns yet another invective epithet as "the most murderous place for jurists" in addition to being the "most murderous place for journalists."

Interestingly, both jurists and journalists are natural allies in their quest for truth, and the Court considers the Fourth Estate as the Sixth Pillar in administering the criminal justice system. For starters, the PNP and the NBI could be less reactive and, instead, be more proactive in securing the persons and families of threatened members of the judiciary.

Straight arrows

Two officials of the Supreme Court-Deputy Court Administrator Christopher Lock and Assistant Court Administrator Reuben de la Cruz-can assist them effectively in this effort. Their expertise and experiences as former NBI agents and trial judges can be tapped to improve the intelligence and investigative capabilities of our law enforcement agencies.

Not only can they shoot straight but, even more importantly, their reputation as straight arrows can provide the built-in credibility and quality necessary for any judicial security program to succeed beyond merely allowing judges to carry firearms in going about their tasks, or permitting them to utilize the services of court staff to double as bodyguards.

An amendment to the Revised Penal Code for the imposition of capital punishment on the killing of a judge who was performing his duties could be an effective deterrent.

In any event, Chief Justice Panganiban fully realizes the chilling effect on the administration of justice, which the murder of a sitting judge would engender should its perpetrator escape with impunity. The erosion of the foundations of our social institutions will inevitably result from a failure to uphold the rule of law.

Judicial security

Consequently, his quick moves to reinforce the safety and security of the men and women guarding the ramparts of the judicial establishment could not have come any sooner. A reorganized Committee on Judicial Security has been reinforced and strengthened with the appointment of Justice Cancio C. Garcia as its chair, with Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco as vice chair.

It is tasked with devising effective ways and means to address the personal security of all justices and judges in all 13 judicial regions, as well as ensure the security of court premises. One of the committee's immediate projects is to follow through a proposal by Justice Antonio T. Carpio for the organization of a US marshals-type security unit. Aside from providing threatened justices and judges with security, the proposed unit will ensure that any person who assaults, injures or kills a member of the judiciary is relentlessly pursued and brought to justice.

(Khan is the spokesperson of the Supreme Court.)

Human rights lawyers

more vulnerable

By Jose Manuel I. Diokno

JUDGE HENRICK GINgoyon is remembered by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) for his contributions to the cause of human rights. As a FLAG lawyer based in Cebu, he pursued the defense of those who could not find anyone to defend them: political prisoners, workers, slum dwellers, farmers and victims of human rights violations. His relentless defense of human rights cases distinguished him as a human rights lawyer and a man of conviction.

As a FLAG lawyer, he received death threats and was placed under surveillance. On Aug. 28, 1987, at the height of a coup, Judge Gingoyon's home was illegally raided by the military. During the raid, soldiers manhandled his then 10-year-old daughter by stepping on her stomach. A year later, Judge Gingoyon was among those named in a death list prepared by the military and distributed to vigilantes in Toledo City, which called for his immediate execution.


His brutal murder illustrates the complete breakdown of law and order in the Philippines. The killing of any judge is an attack on the independence and integrity of the judiciary. It jeopardizes the conditions under which justice may be dispensed.

The modus operandi of Judge Gingoyon's killer is reminiscent of the murders of other FLAG lawyers: the use of armed assailants on motorcycles and the shooting of lawyers at or near their homes when they are most vulnerable.

From 1984 to 2005, 10 FLAG lawyers were murdered.

Zorro C. Aguilar was shot to death on Sept. 23, 1984 in Dipolog City allegedly on the orders of a military intelligence officer.

Romraflo R. Taojo was shot to death on April 2, 1985 at his home in Tagum, Davao del Norte by unidentified men believed to belong to a paramilitary unit under orders from the military.

Crisostomo Cailing was shot to death on July 6, 1985, at his home in Balingasag, Misamis Occidental by unidentified persons.

Luisito Villanueva was shot to death on Feb. 21, 1986 at Calacan, Calamba, Misamis Occidental.

Vicente Mirabueno was shot to death on Feb. 6, 1988, at the public market in General Santos City by unidentified persons.

Alfonso Surigao, Jr. was shot to death on June 24, 1988, at his home in Cebu City by a vigilante acting on orders of a military intelligence officer.

Oscar Tonog was shot in the presence of his wife on March 21, 1989 near his home in Catarman, Northern Samar. He died on March 22, 1989.

Provincial Fiscal Gil Getes was shot to death at his home on March 4, 1990. It is believed he was murdered because he successfully prosecuted some members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit.

Judge Eugenio Valles was shot to death on April 25, 2002 by an unidentified assailant while jogging on the highway in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley.

Judge Henrick Gingoyon is the 10th FLAG lawyer murdered since 1984.


Of the FLAG lawyers murdered since 1984, the perpetrator of only one has been criminally prosecuted and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. The killers-and those who ordered the killings-of the other FLAG lawyers are still at large, scot-free.

Lawyers who handle human rights cases are more vulnerable to violence from military, paramilitary, police and other rightist forces, who do not recognize the role of human rights lawyers as defenders of the Constitution and the rule of law.

As FLAG mourns Judge Gingoyon's death, FLAG demands a speedy, impartial and full investigation of his murder to bring the perpetrators before the bar of justice and hold them to account for their crime.

(Diokno is the chair of FLAG.)

Attacks constitute a threat to civil liberties

By Neri Javier Colmenares

MEMBERS OF THE LEGAL profession, like journalists and activists, must not be attacked for the practice of their profession or political beliefs. The attacks on lawyers and judges are attacks against the legal profession and civil liberties.

Fifteen violent attacks against lawyers were recorded by Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (Codal) in 2005. Other than Judge Henrick Gingoyon, seven lawyers many of whom were human rights lawyers, were killed in 2005: Felidito Dacut (Leyte), Norman Bocar (Samar), Ambrosio Matias and his son Leonard (Nueva Ecija), Public Attorney's Office (PAO) lawyer Teresita Vidamo (Las Pias), Victor Padilla (Manila) and Reuel Dalguntas (Davao).

Human rights lawyer Charles Juloya was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in March 2005. Romeo Capulong, head of the Lawyer-Presentors of the Peoples Congress on Truth and Accountability, was also the subject of an assassination attempt in Nueva Ecija.

PAO lawyer Armando Cabalida was ambushed in February 2005 resulting in the death of his driver. In 2004, three judges were brutally killed and four lawyers were shot dead.

Codal has recorded 11 lawyers, mostly public interest and human rights practitioners, killed since President Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001. The killing of human rights lawyer Juvy Magsino in February 2004 by suspected elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines remains unresolved until now.

Codal reiterates its demand for Ms Arroyo to move swiftly and decisively to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of these acts. The President has yet to act on the manifesto on the killing of lawyers submitted by Codal in August 2005 urging her to publicly condemn the killing and harassment of members of the legal profession.


Codal circulated a manifesto signed by hundreds of lawyers, including provincial chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and international lawyers groups.

The International Association of Peoples' Lawyers and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers condemned the killings and declared the Philippines one of the most dangerous places for lawyers in the world.

The attacks undermine the practice of law and the ability of lawyers to fulfill their sworn obligation to serve their clients to the fullest. The capacity of the legal profession to uphold Canons 2, 18 and 19 of the Code of Professional Responsibility is diminished when its members face threats and are paralyzed into playing passive roles instead of vigorously serving their clients.

These Canons require lawyers to represent their client "in an efficient manner compatible with independence, integrity and effectiveness of the profession" (Canon 2) and "with competence and diligence" (Canons 18 and 19).

Judges are expected to promulgate their decision without fear or favor based on their evaluation of the evidence presented. Their decisions should not be influenced by the consideration of the capacity of one of the parties to physically eliminate them.


The recent attacks, however, threaten the independence and integrity of judges, making the effective administration of justice even more difficult. Canon 1 (Rule 1.03) of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires that a judge be vigilant against any attempt to subvert the independence of the judiciary and resist any pressure from whatever source.

Paragraph 18 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the Eight United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (1990), says "lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their client's causes as a result of the discharge of their functions."

Any attack on lawyers and judges constitute a threat to legal profession and civil liberties including the constitutional principle that grants everyone access to courts and the right to counsel.

(Colmenares is the spokesperson of Counsels for the Defense of Liberties, an organization of judges, lawyers, law students and paralegals.)


(Nov. 1, 1999 to Dec. 31, 2005)

1. Henrick F. Gingoyon, of Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 117, was fatally shot by two motorcycle-riding gunmen at 12:45 a.m. near his residence in Soldier's Hills Village, Barangay Molino, in Bacoor, Cavite on Dec. 31, 2005.

2. Milnar T. Lammawin, of RTC Branch 25 in Tabuk, Kalinga, died of nine gunshot wounds after he was shot by two unidentified men in front of a bakeshop in Tabuk on Aug. 9, 2004.

3. Voltaire Y. Rosales, of RTC Branch 83 in Tanauan City, Batangas, was fatally ambushed on June 10, 2004.

4. Paterno G. Tiamson, of RTC Branch 69 in Binangonan, Rizal, died as a result of stab wounds on Feb. 21, 2004.

5. Pinera A. Biden, of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Kabugao, Apayao, died of gunshot wounds on May 17, 2003.

6. Oscar Gaby M. Uson, of RTC Branch 52 in Tayug, Pangasinan, was gunned down by assailants on Sept. 27, 2002.

7. Eugenio R. Valles, of RTC, Branch 3, Nabunturan, Campostella Valley, died due to multiple gunshot wounds on April 25, 2002.

8. Ariston L. Rubio, of RTC Branch 17 in Batac, Ilocos Norte, died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds on Oct. 31, 2001.

9. Hassan T. Ibnohaijil, of RTC Branch 45, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, died as a result of a fatal head injury he suffered from his assailants on Feb. 5, 2001.

10. Celso F. Lorenzo, Sr., of RTC Branch 1 in Borongan, Eastern Samar, died of gunshot wounds on Nov. 1, 1999.

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