Lawyers’ groups in the Philippines condemned the attempt on the life of one of its members in the central part of the country on March 3, calling the incident an “attack on the legal profession.”
Unidentified assailants stabbed lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen, assistant vice president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), in the city of Iloilo.
He survived several stabbed wounds on the head and shoulder. He was recuperating in the hospital as of posting time on March 4.
Guillen is counsel for various public interest and human rights cases, including one of the 37 petitions questioning the legality of the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
He also represents in court activists and human rights defenders, including those arrested during the police raids in the central Philippine city of Bacolod in October 2019, and the Tumandok indigenous people who were arrested in Panay Island in December 2020.
On Labor Day last year, Guillen was arrested after responding to the arrest of 42 activists who were protesting the killing of Jory Porquia, a coordinator of the leftist Bayan Muna party in Iloilo.
In a media briefing on March 4, the NUPL said Guillen received “numerous” threats before the attack.
“There were a lot of incidents that [Guillen] has been subjected to illegal surveillance and intimidation,” said lawyer Rene Estopacio, NUPL vice president for the Visayas region.
“The primary goal of this attack is to silence him,” added Estopacio.
He said that Guillen was forced to transfer to a rented apartment because of a “series of intimidation and harassment.”
The 33-year-old lawyer was parking his car at past nine o’clock in the evening when he noticed two men watching him.
“He got out of the car and was about to run away but the masked men stabbed him with a screwdriver,” said Estopacio.
Guillen also suffered several stab wounds on the neck and on his face.
The assailants took the lawyer’s bag containing a laptop and some personal belongings.
The local police said the incident was a “case of a robbery-hold up.”
NUPL president Edre Olalia, however, said that based on the pattern of “state-sanctioned” illegal surveillance and harassment against Guillen, “it is clear that this is a political attack.”
A video footage of the incident suggests that it is “a kill operation,” said lawyer Jose Edmund Guillen, head of the Public Attorney’s Office in the region and an uncle of the victim.
“You want to make it appear as a robbery? The CCTV footage says otherwise. It was a kill operation,” said the lawyer.
“Right on the dot, after the stabbing, two motorcycles arrived to pick up the masked killers and they disappeared in the dark,” he added.
Guillen is the fourth NUPL lawyer “who survived attempts” on their lives since 2016.
“These state-sanctioned attacks against the lawyers are attacks on the legal profession in the country,” said Olalia.
Mayor Jerry Trenas of Iloilo expressed “alarm” over the incident saying, “lawyers only do their function to protect their clients.”
“As a lawyer myself this is doubly important for me to be solved. I call on our [police] to do everything possible to resolve this at the earliest possible time,” he said.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines condemned what it described as a “brazen and bloody assassination attempt.”
Lawyer Domingo Egon Cayosa, president of the lawyers’ organization, said inflicting violence on those who seek justice “is criminality in the highest degree.”
The NUPL called on authorities on March 4 “to promptly and properly investigate” the attempt on the life of Guillen.
The group said that since June 2016, it has recorded at least 54 killings of lawyers and judges that are “prima facie” related their work.
In December 2020, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the NUPL raised their concerns before the Supreme Court on the “increasing and alarming incidents” of attacks on lawyers.