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Unreasonable, unconscionable arrest of lawyers

THE two big groups representing Filipino lawyers — the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the much older Philippine Bar Association (PBA) — have come out with statements siding with three of their fellow lawyers who were arrested during a police raid of a Makati City bar on August 16.

For the IBP and PBA, groups that sometimes are on opposite sides of the fence (such as the removal of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice via quo warranto), to speak in unison on a matter so fundamental to the legal profession, should give occasion to law enforcement authorities to reevaluate the manner in which they deal with lawyers.

Based on news media accounts, lawyers Jan Vincent Sambrano, Leni Rocha and Romulo Alarkon were merely taking notes and videos while members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were implementing a search warrant for illegal drugs at the premises of the Time Bar on August 16.

Later, they were apprehended by policemen after they supposedly obstructed justice and failed to identify their clients. They were charged with “constructive possession” of illegal drugs.

The actions of the PNP raiding team were puzzling to say the least, as the three lawyers were simply fulfilling their duty as officers of the court to make sure that the police search and seizure of evidence from the scene were legal.

The PBA is correct to point out that while both the police and the lawyers were at the bar to do their respective jobs, there is one crucial difference between the two sides. The police were in possession of firearms; the lawyers were armed only with their knowledge of the law.

The police claim that the lawyers were interfering with their work didn’t really wash.

The PNP men’s actions in Makati on August 16 are yet another indication of the licentious tendencies of some in the police force which, we believe, have contributed to the erosion of the public’s trust in the uniformed service.

Left unchecked, this will have serious implications on the rule of law in the Philippines, as the IBP had pointed out.

The PBA reminds the PNP that the 1987 Constitution protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose.”

And “in representing their clients in court, in counseling them while in detention, and in representing them during searches,” said IBP President Abdiel Dan Fajardo in a statement, “lawyers are performing their constitutional duty to act as legal counsel.”

Both the PBA and IBP pointed out that in performing their duties as legal counsel, authorities should not impute on lawyers the wrongdoing allegedly committed by their clients. They “should not be treated as if they are in criminal conspiracy with their clients,” said Fajardo.

The same goes for people who look down upon lawyers who represent clients in conflict with the law.

The legal profession’s Code of Professional Responsibility states: “A lawyer shall not decline to represent a person solely on account of the latter’s race, sex, creed or status of life, or because of his own opinion regarding the guilt of said person.”

God forbid that the legal system is no longer able to dispense justice, because the lawyers representing the accused have been cowered by misguided policemen and a misinformed public.

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