COVID-19 Series: The impact of the crisis on lawyers in the Philippines
The COVID-19 crisis poses huge challenges to human rights and the rule of law. The pandemic also affects lawyers all around the world in their daily professional activities, which causes a great impact on the legal profession. Lawyers for Lawyers has created a COVID-19 series to provide insight into the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on lawyers all around the world.
The second article in this COVID-19 series covers the insights shared with Lawyers for Lawyers by Czarina Musni, member of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
“The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected the public health and economic stability of the Philippines. With the restriction of physical distancing, the exercise of profession other than the medical field, has been effectively put to a halt.
Insofar as lawyers are concerned, legal practice these days has been a challenge. For one, court hearings have been postponed, which is greatly a cause for worry especially to our political prisoners who have been languishing in jail for false and fabricated charges. In fact, a human rights worker, Ms. Teresita Naul, detained here in Mindanao has yet to be arraigned by the Court as an accused in a case lodged before it due to COVID-19 related postponements. She has been in detention for three (3) months now, and running.
In the alternative, online sessions are being held in some courts; but with technical glitches on the internet connection and the lack of facilities, these sessions pose a graver challenge and even danger, rather than a relief, to the quest of justice in these times.
But in all fairness, the Judiciary is addressing these concerns with utmost action. Recently, the courts have resumed operations since June 1 2020 with strict implementation of health and distancing protocols. As a result, some cases are being heard on a daily basis, but in a fewer number (from 20 cases a day at most, to at least 5-8 cases a day). At least, some cases are now up and running again.
However, the strength and passion of human rights lawyers and fellow human rights advocates are again put to the test now more than ever, as the Duterte Administration fast tracks the passing of the Anti-Terror Bill, which have been critiqued to be a grave curtailment of basic human rights that are protected by and guaranteed in no less than the 1987 Philippine Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Under this Bill, the freedoms of peaceful assembly, and of expression and the rights to due process, and against unlawful arrests and detention, including the principle of checks and balances between the three departments of the government, among others, are being trampled upon at the speed of light.
What outrages the Filipino people more is the fact that President Duterte has certified this bill as an urgent legislation amidst the mounting calls for COVID-19 mass testing, medical reliefs and regularized financial assistance, accountability of law enforcement officers for their double standard implementation of quarantine protocols favoring the elites, the accountability of COVID-19 funds amounting to trillions of pesos, the passing of anti-people policies (i.e. restricting back riding of motorcycles, limiting public transportation, etc.) and the continued vilification, surveillance, red-tagging and designation of activists, including lawyers, priests, doctors, teachers, and the youth, as terrorists.
Indeed these are critical yet challenging times for the Filipino people who are rising against tyranny while maintaining a distance of at least 2 meters apart.
On a personal note, the COVID-19 pandemic has stirred up feelings of panic and worry at the thought of infection within my family, friends and colleagues. It has increased anxiety levels to heights I have never been before in thinking about what my future would bring- assessing my skills, my profession, my ambitions, my health and my economic stability – or whether I have a future to speak of at all. It is indeed true that while the issue of physical health may be at the forefront of this pandemic, the state of one’s mental health should also not be taken for granted.
Meanwhile, these times call for a more robust practice of meditation and self-awareness leading to gratitude for what I have at the moment – blessings of family, friends and colleagues, a roof over my head, clean water, good health, a noble profession, and many more privileges one could not expect to have in these trying times. These days I find some more time to contemplate on my purpose/s in life and to reassess my personal goals with a renewed strength to carry on the fight for justice and truth, and to live each moment with peace, love and positivity.
To quote Sonya Renee Taylor, “Our pre-Corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction… we should not long to return, my friends. We are given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”
May these times be a lesson, an inspiration and a challenge for us all.
In solidarity with the Human Rights Defenders world-wide.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Lawyers for Lawyers.
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