“If they can kill lawyers, they can kill practically anybody”
Connie Brizuela (1953-2009)
Concepcion ‘Connie’ Brizuela escorted the wife of a candidate who was planning to run for governor in the May 2010 elections in the Philippines. She is one of the founders of the Union for People’s Lawyers in Mindanao and she worked pro bono as a lawyer in the NoyNoy/Mar campaign. During the International Verification and Fact Finding Mission (IVFFM) of L4L in 2008 she said, in response to the killings of lawyers and judges in the Philippines, that if they could kill lawyers, then practically nobody was safe any longer. More than a year later, she was murdered.
Connie was called the ‘Iron Lady of Cotabato’ by her friends and colleagues because of her relentless fight against human rights violations by the army, the police and armed civilians, and her big heart for people in distress. In 2005 Brizuela became one of the leaders of the Kutabatenos Alang sa Maayong Panggamhanan, an alliance created to promote ‘good governance’ and the democratic rights of the people in North Cotabato.
In 2005 Brizuela and three other human rights defenders were sentenced to jail when they started to challenge the Pinol brothers, who at the time ruled the region of North Cotabato, because of alleged assault and intimidation by the brothers. Immediately after being put in prison, thousands of people camped outside the prison to protest against her sentence. After three days she was released on bail.
After her time in jail, the death threats against Brizuela worsened. In 2008 she told the fact-finding mission of L4L that she had received death threats repeatedly, so that she had been forced to move to another island.
In 2009 Brizuela, in preparation for the 2010 election, joined the convoy of Esmael Mangudadatu as a lawyer, to file his certificate of candidacy in the city of Shariff Aguak. Esmael Mangudadatu challenged the rule of those in charge, the Ampatuan clan. The convoy never reached Shariff Aguak, because they were stopped by hundreds of armed men led by the Ampatuan clan.
Brizuela, together with 57 other victims, was killed brutally in one of the worst incidents of political violence in the Philippines.
Amnesty commemorated the massacre at a meeting on 24 November 2010. L4L board member Judith Lichtenberg spoke here about the impunity of political violence. Also, a documentary about the murders premiered, part of which you can see here.
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