‘Resist injustice’: Newly sworn lawyer helps detained Pride protesters
MANILA, Philippines– A day after the online oath-taking ceremony of successful Bar passers, Eljay Bernardo didn’t think twice to help his first clients: the detained Pride protesters in Manila.
The protesters including 10 members of LGBTQ+ rights group Bahaghari, 8 from other progressive groups, and two drivers were arrested by the police while holding an indignation rally to celebrate Pride month and to oppose the anti-terrorism bill.
Jose Mari Callueng, a paralegal at Karapatan Alliance Philippines, shared a photo on his Facebook account, announcing Bernardo’s onboarding on the Pride protesters’ case.
According to Callueng, he met Bernardo in a paralegal training hosted by Rainbow Rights Philippines, an organization helping “persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression through legal literacy and empowerment.”
For his undergraduate studies, the 31-year-old Bernardo took BA Political Science at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. Eljay studied the Italian language and worked as an Italian speaker for an organization.
He then enrolled at the UP College of Law and graduated last 2019. He was among the 2019 bar passers who took their oath on Thursday, June 25, through an online ceremony.
According to Eljay, he studied law out of curiosity and would have regretted it if he did not pursue it. At first, his intentions were not clear, but he found a strong reason why he wanted to become a lawyer while studying in UP Law.
“Sa law school ako na-expose sa advocacy talaga. Tapos ayun, after I become exposed, naging larger part na siya on why I want to become a lawyer (I was exposed in different advocacies when I was in law school, and it became a larger part of the reason why I want to become a lawyer),” Bernardo recounted.
For Bernardo, a lot of opportunities could happen if you are a lawyer. It could mean having a louder voice to advance the advocacies he believed in.
When he was still in law school, he was part of a group which formed a student organization dubbed UP Outlaw. This paved the way for him to get in touch with Rainbow Rights Philippines where he became a paralegal project coordinator for the organization.
Case close to his heart
Rainbow Rights Philippines often handles cases of human rights violations.
The lawyers and paralegals of the organization operate as the quick response team (QRTs) when facing law enforcers.
Bernardo mentioned that the protesters asked for his legal aid prior to the short gathering and during its planning. He noted that he was “on speed dial” just in case something untoward happened to the protesters.
Prior to this case, Bernardo spent most of his time in the organization providing legal advice online and remotely.
“Malaki siyang learning experience for me kasi this is the first time ako naka-QRT for something na GCQ-related, human rights related, and LGBTQ+ related (It’s a big learning experience for me because this is the first time that I am in the QRT for a case that is GCQ-related, human rights related, and LGBTQ+ related),” Bernardo stressed.
With the anti-terror bill awaiting for the President’s signature, Bernardo reiterated that the vagueness of the bill’s provisions is what made it dangerous. He noted that the bill has a lot of jabs to the freedom of speech, association, and assembly. He’s worried that any actions pursuant to these freedoms might be construed as destabilizing the government due to the bill’s wide definition of “terrorism”
“Sa current state, pinipigilan ka na. Kayang-kaya na baliin yung batas at iconstrue yung batas na mali, tapos dadagdag pa ang anti-terror bill sa mga batas na madaling iconstrue against any advocacy group,” Bernardo said. (With the current state, we are already constrained. The law can be easily construed in the wrong way, and then this anti-terror bill just adds up to the list of laws that could easily be construed against any advocacy group.)
Bernardo also urged other law professionals to continue speaking up and help protect the freedom promised by the constitution.
“Try to speak up and show na ‘yung mga batas natin should not be used to impinge on our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, kasi ‘yan talaga ‘yung mas mataas na proteksyon ‘yung binibigay diyan,” Bernardo added. (Try to speak up and show them that our laws should not be used to impinge on our freedom of speech and freedom of assembly because these freedoms are highly protected.)
He also urged fellow newly-sworn lawyers to join organizations that forward human rights.
“It can only bring us all up,” he said.
Bernardo believed that Pride was a protest, and what happened to the protesters on Friday, was a manifestation of that spirit. In addition, he emphasized that the right to protest is protected by the country’s laws. (READ: Netizens call to free detained Pride protesters: ‘Pride is protest’)
This year’s Bahaghari-led Pride protest had 3 objectives: first, to celebrate Pride; second, to express their disagreement with the passage of the anti-terrorism bill; and third, to urge the government to swiftly act on the ongoing pandemic.
The Pride 20 protesters werecharged with disobedience of person in authority in relation to Republic Act 11332, otherwise known as the Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases, and Batas Pambansa 880, otherwise known as Public Assembly Act.
Earlier, the protesters were brought to the Manila Police District for an inquest proceeding.
With the help of the Rainbow Rights Philippines, a legal team was formed to help the apprehended protesters.–Rappler.com