Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao’s Musni Lawyers:“Red Tagging – “A badge of Valor!”

UPLM’s Musni Lawyers’:“Red Tagging – “A badge of Valor!”

February 22, 1986 marked the start of the four-day massive protest action against the tyrannical and dictatorial rule of Marcos. This has today become known as the People Power Revolution.

In Cagayan de Oro City, several organizations, through the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), had gathered to denounce the exacerbating human rights violations under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, reminiscent of the Martial Law years of Marcos. But during its forum last Friday (February 22), an unknown individual handed out envelopes containing flyers vilifying several of the human rights defenders in the region.

Among the groups accused of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines are the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).

Singled out in the lawyers’ groups listed aremyself, Beverly Selim-Musni, and my two daughters, Beverly Ann, Yr. and Czarina Golda, who are also lawyers.

The attacks against lawyers under the administration of President Duterte, a lawyer himself, are not new and are not only in Northern Mindanao. Moreover, the attacks against the brave lawyers who have chosen the hard battle of fighting repressive state mechanisms is constant in the history of our country’s repressive governments.

I, Beverly SelimMusni,along with Bayan MunaPartylistRepresentative Carlos IsaganiZarate, had already been included in the Order of Battle (OB) list highly believed to be that of the military’s handy work under the OplanBantayLaya (OBL) of then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

This time, the state security machinery has included my daughters. The bias of my daughters for the poor and the oppressed is distinct, much more my pride, since they have inherited my compassion. Their father, Atty. Oscar Musni, is a FLAG lawyer himself and a political detainee during the time of Martial Law.

If our family’s involvement in defending the peoples’ fundamental rights and freedoms could be called a dynasty in UPLM, it is the kind of dynasty that we modestly believe is deserving of public support. The work of UPLM and other progressive lawyers’ groups is not easy. Had we chosen to side with the powers that be, we would have easily amassed power and influence, being a family of lawyers.

But what makes the UPLM, with its members, distinct – and, easily, targets of state security forces – is our lawyering for the poor, dispossessed and oppressed. Our clients have been persecuted and criminalized for their work in empowering communities to fight for their rights. They have been targeted by the state for their militant defense of the fundamental right to life, and to live with dignity.

These are the people who are most vulnerable to denial of legal services not only for their lack of money but also of the unfortunate hesitance of some of our colleagues in the profession to come to their rescue because of their stigmatization as “enemies of the state”. This reservation against these highly vulnerable people –political prisoners, rights activists and detainees– runs counter to the fundamental constitutional presumption of innocence and equal protection of law.

UPLM has inherited its tradition of lawyering for the people from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Protestant Lawyers League of the Philippines (PLLP),COLUMN, MABINI and other progressive lawyers’ groups which battled the Martial Law of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. FLAG, and now, NUPL and UPLM have already several fallen martyrs from our ranks because of our crusade for social justice and lasting peace,

This new attack against us, peoples’ lawyers, is of course, given our history of similar experiences, highly revolting, as it is disturbing. It compromises the security of those tagged, as shown in brutal incidences across the country. For one, Atty. Ben Ramos, before he was gunned downon November 6, 2018, had been red-tagged by state security forces. His photographs were put up in tarpaulins along with those of his clients, accused of being members of the New People’s Army. In so doing, the state already conditions the minds of the public so that whatever it does against us, human rights defenders, is accepted as reasonable.

Despite these, the UPLM is unfazed, but will be on guard.

We shall take these attacks against us as our “badge of valor”. We remain in our unwavering commitment to continue serving those who need us most. We remain constant in our passion to defend justice and protect the rights of the people – even as we have to risk our lives with the people we are defending.

These are our commitments as UPLM members. Commitments in perpetua.


February 23, 2019, Cagayan de Oro City


Source: Karapatan – Northern Mindanao Region

Date: February 25, 2019