The arrest of three lawyers — Lenie Rocel Rocha, Jan Vincent Soliven, and Romulo Bernard Alarcon – for “obstruction of justice” while they were monitoring the execution of a search warrant by the police, is an issue that concerns not just the legal community but every Filipino. The PNP’s apparent contention that the accountability of law enforcers to rules and proper procedure cannot be raised in the course of police operations, but only in legal proceedings arising after the fact, is a dangerous mindset that dramatically increases the likelihood of abuse and the assurance of impunity.
It must be made clear: a citizen’s legal and Constitutional rights, whether asserted directly or through lawyers, can be invoked at any time, in any venue, and not just in court as the statements of several PNP officials would seem to imply. The Bill of Rights in the Constitution serves as a constant shield against official abuse, a continuing guarantee to every person of fair treatment and respect for dignity. It is not a document that is of concern only for lawyers and courts, but for every citizen, in every interaction with government.
That some members of our police force now feel that they can brush aside claims to legal rights and due process, and bully and intimidate those asserting them – even if they are lawyers performing their duties, and thus, clothed with authority as officers of the court — through verbal harangues, physical restraint, and the threat of subsequent criminal liability, is indicative of an alarming erosion of Constitutional protections and the rule of law. If even lawyers, fully educated on their Constitutional rights and trained to assert them, can be treated with such official disdain, then we can only imagine how much worse less informed, less empowered Filipinos will fare when subjected to abusive behavior by agents of government.
This is not mere conjecture. During one dark period of our history, the rule of law was set aside for the rule of the gun, and citizen’s rights were forced to give way to the unscrupulous use of power. That period was the Martial Law regime, and we must never again allow its like to arise.
The line must be drawn here. As free Filipinos, we cannot allow this challenge to our hard-won Constitutional rights to pass.
I urge my fellow members of the Philippine Bar to continue condemning the arrest and indictment of Attorneys Rocha, Soliven, and Alarcon, and stand firmly for full and faithful observance of the Bill of Rights and the rule of law, especially by law enforcement agents. I likewise call on all citizens to add their voices and express their concern, their alarm, their outrage, so that all will know that free Filipinos will not let even the slightest relapse into tyranny pass unchallenged.
When I took my oath and swore to uphold the Constitution, I committed myself to fulfilling its promise that never again would the Filipino nation have to suffer the excesses of unchecked, unscrupulous power. This is a commitment I fully intend to uphold.