Monday, December 7, 2009

Genuine legal advocacy

In a previous blog, I expressed my personal grief over the murder of two lady lawyers during the infamous Maguindanao massacre on November 23, 2009 which occurred in the beautiful but politically violent Philippine island of Mindanao.

In relation thereto, may I reproduce verbatim below an article entitled “Poor Grieve Over Murder of Lawyer” written by reported Jefrrey M. Tupas of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on December 5, 2009.

We must never forget the struggles of humble, unassuming, nameless and unseen legal advocates in the oppression-infested regions of our country who tirelessly and bravely work to promote and preserve the rule of law in the most trying circumstances without any expectation of huge professional incomes, social benefits, and political popularity.

The genuine legal advocacy that truly makes a real difference in the hapless fate of a struggling republican country, such as the Philippines, is one that courageously and persistently seeks the promotion of lasting social justice one humble case at a time in the far-flung poverty-stricken barrios and city slums thereof with one burning aim in mind, that is, to protect the oppressed and the ignorant, to punish the abusive ruling elites and cronies and their military and police protectors and criminal financiers, and to preserve the humble historical gains and dreams of the revolutionary democratic struggles of the selfless and patriotic forefathers and national heroes of its people.

Poor grieve over murder of lawyer
By Jeffrey M. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:56:00 12/05/2009

THEIR tears had already wrenched her heart even before they could open their mouths to tell their stories about a missing son, a jailed husband, a tortured relative, a dead brother, a village cordoned by the military, houses burned, and a piece of land grabbed.

And they wailed the loudest as the casket of lawyer Concepcion “Connie” Jayme-Brizuela was slowly lowered to her grave in the afternoon of Nov. 28 in Barangay del Carmen in President Roxas town in North Cotabato.

“Who else will help us now?” a Manobo woman from Colombio town in Sultan Kudarat was overheard as saying in Cebuano.

One even questioned what seems to be the inevitable: “Is there still God?”

The throng of people, most of them farmers, from Colombio to the hinterlands of Arakan, the farther town of North Cotabato, gathered at the cemetery to pay their last respects to Brizuela, their lawyer.

“It only proves that she was well-loved by the people who often ran to her for help every time their rights and peaceful lives in their small villages were threatened by outside forces,” said lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate.

“She was their lawyer. She stood for them. She was their defender … Now, they mourn her death,” Zarate said.

Tales of oppression

But no one could tell if Brizuela ever cried over their tales of oppression. Close friends only remembered an image of a composed and strong woman who did not even show a hint of fear even when she was jailed over a libel suit filed against her and three others.

She was fearless, they said, and she was always ready to give her legal assistance—in exchange for only a few eggs or native chicken—to farmers, women, or “lumad” (indigenous people) who are against powerful people with guns and political influence.

Italian priest Peter Geremiah, who is Brizuela’s friend, said victims of human rights violations had pinned their hopes on the murdered lawyer.

“Connie was always there for them, ready to listen to the poor. She was tireless and always willing to listen and help and fight for them. But now, she herself is a victim of human rights violation that’s beyond description,” Geremiah said.

Brizuela and her colleague, Cynthia Oquendo, and at least 30 journalists joined the convoy of Maguindanao gubernatorial aspirant Esmael Mangudadatu to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak town on Nov. 23. They were to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao.

They never made it to their destination. Stopped in Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, they were mowed down by some 100 men believed to be led by Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. of Datu Unsay town.

Shocking monstrosity

“They were confident that they will not be touched because they were women and because they were lawyers. What was more shocking was the extent of monstrosity of the killers. It was almost unbelievable for us that there are still people who could become monsters because of their greed for power or money,” Geremiah said.

Brizuela’s death, he said, was a tragedy for those who were relying on her for legal help.

“There are only a few now who work for social justice; only a few who are willing to take the risk of helping and protecting the poor. Only a few who stand against the oppressor … and now, one of the few has fallen,” the priest said.

Brizuela’s mother, Irene, said her daughter’s commitment was unquestionable.

“She did not mind it if she got no monetary exchange from all the cases that she was handling. I felt her happiness every time she was able to extend what she could to the poor. She did not mind it if she only received eggs or chicken or a bunch of bananas from her clients,” Irene said.

“We (family) are not the only people she left. She left many villages. Many people … a lot of them,” she added.

Family strength

And these people, according to her brother Manuel Jayme, are one of the sources of the family’s strength now.

“The killers may have a throng of savage killers with them when they killed my sister and the other victims of the Ampatuan massacre, but we have hundreds and hundreds of people who are willing to be on our side in our fight for justice. These people are our source of strength,” he said.

Lawyers’ groups have condemned the death of their colleagues and the other massacre victims.

On Nov. 27, hundreds of members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Union of Peoples Lawyers for Mindanao (UPLM), and the Free Legal Assistance Group, as well as law students, staged a rally in Davao City to demand that the mass killing be resolved expeditiously.

“The people’s demand for justice over the worst massacre in the country’s history must hold strong. We must not let our guard down as threats to thwart the broad movement calling for justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre remain,” said Eduardo Estores, chair of the UPLM chapter in the city.

The International Association of Democratic Lawyers also condemned the deaths of Brizuela and Oquendo.

“Yes, we are asking for heads to roll … but the right time will come and it will take time. This will take time and it would be a long way. But we are ready. I am sure, the whole thing will test our patience and our resolve,” Brizuela’s brother said.