Without "credible evidence," a foreign delegation's finding that the killings of Philippine lawyers may be "state-sanctioned" is "preposterous" and "reckless," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday.
Nine foreign lawyers briefly studied lawyer killings in the country under the Duterte administration and found "patterns suggesting a connection between the killings and the actions of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines."
The delegation also suggested that public declarations by President Rodrigo Duterte "targeting lawyers" give "effectively anyone a license to harass and kill."
"It is my opinion that this is a very sweeping statement that should be backed up by competent proof being made public," the Justice chief said in a message to reporters.
Guevarra said he commiserates with the families of lawyers killed in the line of duty, "but I am not ready to impute the blame on the government unless I have clear evidence to support such a serious accusation."
The foreign delegation, which is supported by various international lawyers' organizations, found that incidents of "severe human rights violations" against Philippine lawyers have seen a "sharp increase" under the current administration.
They also said there is "no structural protection, compensation or remedy for the victims and their families."
Guevarra disputed this, saying suspects have been arrested and charged, citing as an example Quezon City prosecutor Rogelio Velasco, who was gunned down last year. The murder complaint against three police officers accused of killing him is undergoing preliminary investigation at the Department of Justice.
"There are so many reasons why lawyers get killed -- work-related, personal, business, political, etc. and pinning the blame on government may be pushing it too far," Guevarra said.
Earlier, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the administration has not attacked any lawyer.
At least 37 lawyers have been killed in the country since Duterte assumed office in 2016, according to the National Union of People's Lawyers, one of the local organizations that hosted the foreign delegation. —LDF, GMA News