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Iloilo lawyer continues to help marginalized people a year after surviving screwdriver attack

Attorney Angelo Karlo “AK” Guillen (FILE PHOTO INVESTIGATOR/GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE)

ILOILO CITY – The physical pain of human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen’s injuries still lingers a year after he narrowly escaped death when he was stabbed repeatedly with a screwdriver on 3 March 2021 in this city.

“It’s still painful when pressure is applied to the area where the screwdriver was in,” Guillen told the INQUIRER in an interview on Wednesday.

The scar on his left temple which is covered in hair is barely visible, but the ones on his shoulder and neck are constant reminders of how he cheated death exactly one year ago.

Two masked assailants repeatedly stabbed Guillen as he walked to his boarding house.

They sped off on separate motorbikes driven by two accomplices after taking the lawyer’s backpack with personal belongings and a shoulder bag containing his laptop, an external drive for backup files and documents of the case.

His attackers, however, left behind his wallet and smartphone, which were in his pockets.

Guillen, 34, spent 18 days recovering in a hospital from at least eight stab wounds. For several months, he felt numbness on the right side of his body.

“The doctors said I was very lucky because the screwdriver hit hard bone. A few inches further and it could have been fatal,” Guillen said.

Investigators initially speculated the theft might be the motive for the attack, but Guillen and his colleagues believe it was related to human rights cases he handled as vice president of the Visayas of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and Secretary General of its Panay Chapter. .

“Clearly this was part of the continuing pattern of attacks against members of progressive organizations and human rights defenders,” Guillen said.

He cited the still unsolved killings of Bayan Muna Iloilo City party list coordinator Jose Reynaldo “Jory” Porquia and Bacolod City-based human rights activist Zara Alvarez on August 17, 2020.

On December 30, 2020, nine chiefs of the indigenous Tumandok tribe were killed and 16 others were arrested in Capiz and Iloilo provinces in a combined police and military operation.

The Philippine National Police said those killed retaliated when officers signed search warrants for possession of illegal firearms and ammunition against suspected leaders and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

Guillen, who is among the NUPL lawyers who have been repeatedly tagged red, is one of the legal advisers to those arrested.

The attack on Guillen was widely condemned, including by the Integrated Bar Association of the Philippines and other national and international lawyers’ groups.

But a year after his assault, no arrests have been made.

“I always have in mind that my attackers and those behind them are still out there and they might try to kill me again,” he said.

It took additional security measures but did not stop dealing with cases of human rights violations to defend marginalized sectors.

“Despite what happened to me, I always remind myself that I am among the very few who have fortunately survived. I must maximize the time I have left for those I can help as human rights abuses continue,” Guillen said.

He is grateful for the support of his fellow lawyers, classmates, friends and colleagues in the human rights movement.

Favorable court rulings also lifted his spirits.

While recovering in hospital last year, the Bacolod City Regional Trial Court (RTC) ordered the release of detained members of progressive organizations in the city after the court quashed a warrant for search warrant issued by the Quezon City RTC which was used in the arrest. .

Guillen, a graduate in political science from the University of the Philippines – Visayas and law class valedictorian at San Agustin University in Iloilo City in 2013, was among those who handled the case and prepared the pleadings.

In June last year, the Capiz RTC ordered the release of six of those arrested in the December 30, 2020 police and military operation after the court overturned search warrants issued by the Manila RTC.

“It’s dangerous for us but I can’t give up my job as a human rights lawyer,” Guillen said.

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