Press Release
August 25, 2020

Experts, De Lima bewail continued weaponization of law
under present regime

Human rights advocates and experts in various fields have deplored the rising repression of the Filipinos' basic rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic under the Duterte regime during a webinar organized by the Committee for the Freedom of Leila M. de Lima last Aug. 22.

Dubbed as "Clampdown Amid Lockdown: Human Rights Repression in the Philippines during the Pandemic," the online forum, which sought to sustain and increase the interest of the public on the phenomenon of lawfare, was among the activities lined up for Senator Leila de Lima's 61st birthday on Aug. 27.

"We should pay attention to the problem of lawfare - a portmanteau of the words 'law' and 'warfare' to signify a form of war consisting of the spurious use of the legal and judicial system to silence government's adversaries - under this vindictive regime," said De Lima in a statement.

Regional Coordinator for Metro Manila and Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) member Atty. Theodore Te, who was the main speaker in the webinar via Zoom, said the Duterte government has taken advantage of the global crisis in robbing Filipinos of their civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.

He cited, among others, the shutdown of ABS-CBN Network, the state surveillance that resulted to killings of human rights defenders, and the war against women particularly De Lima's continued detention based on flimsy charges.

"We are fighting a common and deadly enemy (COVID-19) that does not discriminate between political affiliations. There is a need for transparency, instead of opacity," said Te.

Foremost economist and TV personality Prof. Solita Collas-Monsod, for her part, said that the Filipinos are now seeing a constant regression of good governance and rule of law indicators in the country.

"Rule of law has slowly been strangled and starved to death, until it is now the rule BY law. The systems of checks and balances are removed," Monsod said. "Lawfare can be a godsend if it is used according to the rule of law. But when it is rule BY law, it becomes a devil-send."

Meanwhile, Philippine Daily Inquirer's columnist Dr. Gideon Lasco, PhD, said that there is also a weaponization not only of law, but also of public health, in the time of COVID-19, adding that pandemics are a blessing in disguise for dictators.

"We cannot let this weaponization of both the law and public health pass, we need to unite on the common ground of our freedom; We must use our craft and our voices to point out the abuses and absurdities happening today; We need to document and memorialize what is happening to pre-empt historical revisionism and to secure our future generations," Lasco said.

In the closing remarks, former Dean of Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Vina stressed that "it is important for us to emphasize that what we are facing is a double pandemic: COVID-19 and authoritarianism."

Aside from them, other speakers in the webinar included Atty. Emerlynne Gil, Senior International Legal Advisor, International Commission of Jurists, and Mr. Jules Guiang, former PTV4 Host and the founder of the National Alliance of Youth Leaders).

It may be recalled that the same group, the Committee for the Freedom of Leila M. de Lima, previously staged the successful and well-attended the first global forum on lawfare in an event entitled "International Forum on Lawfare: Weaponizing the Law vs Democratic Dissent" held last February this year. It jumpstarted the discussion on the misuse of the law and legal process against democratic dissent.

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