International Fair Trial Day 2024 Opening Remarks
On this Fair Trial Day, we warmly welcome and embrace you in solidarity and hope that you come back not for the reasons you are here now and not under circumstances of lawyering dangerously. We look forward to that day when things would become better even before they get worse.
June 14, 2024
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers is a nationwide voluntary association of human rights lawyers in the Philippines, committed to the defense, protection, and promotion of human rights, especially of the poor and the oppressed.

NUPL Chairperson Atty. Edre U. Olalia

Today seems to be a sad day. For the International Fair Trial Day Steering Group has unfortunately chosen us as the focal country this year “due to systemic problems with the independence of the judiciary, serious human rights violations against lawyers and human rights defenders, a culture of impunity, and a failure to respect procedural rights for a fair trial.” It is not a cause for celebration nor pride.

But what kind of nation did you come to? It is a place of contrasts, contradictions and conflicts in society with the challenges of human rights defenders and the dangers of people’s lawyering but where there is compassion, conviction and commitment to change things.

It is a country that commemorated independence a few days ago but with foreign boots on the ground all over the place. It is where the poor farmers do not even own the land they have tilled for generations. It is where the huge labor force cannot find work and where millions of migrant workers slave it out in other countries to be able to have a vacation back in their own country. It is where we see legions of doctors but the majority of the population do not have basic health care. 

It is where the minute elite live it up while the shoeless and shirtless die of hunger and sickness, let alone gunned down in the streets lie animals.

It is a place where they say we have one of the freest press in the world and yet journalists are slapped with harassment suits if not killed. It is a place where they say democracy thrives but dissent is silenced in so many ways and means. It is where human rights defenders are red-tagged and need to defend themselves and their own human rights.

And it is where the so-called rule of law is often eclipsed by the rule of force. It is a place where lawyers abound and hundreds more added every year but justice is inaccessible to many. It is where we have nice laws against torture, disappearances and on the rights of the accused as well as protective judicial remedies but violations seem to be standard operating procedure. And it is a country where there are draconian anti-terror laws but the real terrorists and terrorist-financiers are out there and not in jail. It is a place where lawyers, judges and prosecutors under siege cannot get decisive protection much less justice themselves.

It is where the government keeps on boasting that we have a robust justice system and that domestic remedies are all here.

Really? But from the perspective of the victims, what is wrong with the justice system in the Philippines? 

Apart from subsisting jurisprudence and laws and legal hocus pocus and shortcuts that do not align with the principles of a fair trial, allow me to quote  from the Verdict of the International People’s Tribunal held last month in Brussels:

“ x x x  a recurring fact and common denominator [is] x x x  the continuing lack of genuine accountability, brazen impunity, and proven general ineffectiveness and inadequacy of domestic remedies that by and large prevent or fail to give justice to the victims. x x x

“ x x x  reprisals or threats of reprisals and intimidation of the victims, relatives and witnesses, both physical and legal through harassment suits and weaponization of the law; lack of trust and frustration in the legal and judicial system x x x ; and preoccupation with survival and constraints of earning a living  x x x  hamper prosecution.

“x x x  there is sloppy, testimony-dependent, unscientific, token and even utter lack or absence of competent and genuine police investigation, even passing off the blame on the victims x x x .

“x x x  the justice system remains very slow, protracted, tedious, complicated, cumbersome and expensive or inaccessible x x x . x x x  legal technicalities like the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties x x x , circumvention or even outright dismissal of application for protective remedies, and non-observance of the few human rights laws have been obstacles.

“These are aggravated by endemic corruption and use of connections, influence, power x x x  by perpetrators; fear and lack of independence of some prosecutors and judges; and double standard x x x  between the rich and powerful and the poor.

“Worse, there is coddling, x x x  rewarding and tolerance by the political leadership of perpetrators. Ultimately there seems to be a lack of political will on the part of authorities to pursue cases against perpetrators.”

And this is the part where groups like the IFTD can come in. It is an opportunity to turn a bad thing into a good thing.

With your visit and presence, this after all is not really a sad day but a cause for challenge and hope as you aim “to raise awareness about the importance of respect for fair trial rights.”

Today’s event is another welcome initiative to draw attention to the situation in the country as we wrap our heads around concrete recommendations for reform. 

So, on this Fair Trial Day, we warmly welcome and embrace you in solidarity and hope that you come back not for the reasons you are here now and not under circumstances of lawyering dangerously. We look forward to that day when things would become better even before they get worse. #

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