Harassment and surveillance of human rights lawyer by suspected military intelligence units in Isabela province, Philippines

On 25 March 2014, at around 7:00 p.m., activist and paralegal William Bugatti was gunned down by unknown assailants widely believed to be government security forces.

The day before Bugatti was killed, he was with Atty. Ma. Catherince Dannug-Salucon in a hearing at the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Lagawe, Ifugao as counsel for political prisoners Rene Boy Abiva and Virgilio Corpuz. 

On 25 March 2014, at around 7:00 p.m., activist and paralegal William Bugatti was gunned down by unknown assailants widely believed to be government security forces.

The day before Bugatti was killed, he was with Atty. Ma. Catherince Dannug-Salucon in a hearing at the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Lagawe, Ifugao as counsel for political prisoners Rene Boy Abiva and Virgilio Corpuz. 

In the hearing, the prosecution presented its third witness who virtually admitted on cross-examination by Atty. Salucon and during clarificatory questioning by the court that he did not actually see Atty. Salucon’s clients at the scene of the ambush; and that he was just shown pictures of them before the hearing. The witness failed to divulge the identity of the person who showed him the pictures, prompting Atty. Salucon to task her paralegal Bugatti to get the names, ranks and addresses of the prosecution’s witness.

On the day Bugatti was killed, he joined Atty. Salucon and the relatives of their clients over late lunch. Bugatti told Salucon that he helped secure the Hall of Justice by going there as early as 6:00 a.m. as a security precaution, culled from previous experiences and incidents of reaction and reprisal.

He also advised Atty. Salucon to change her usual routine in attending hearings at RTC Lagawe to ensure her security and to avoid a pattern by which the military men and PNP operatives could rely on in their surveillance. Hours after that, Atty. Salucon would learn of Bugatti’s killing.

A few minutes after Atty. Salucon knew of Bugatti’s death, she also learned from a reliable source that the PNP-Regional Intelligence Division, through the PNP Provincial, issued a directive to PNP Burgos, Isabela to conduct a background investigation on and to confirm if Atty. Salucon is a "red lawyer". She also got information that she is being secretly followed by members of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP).

Atty. Salucon also monitored the following:

  • From a buko (coconut) and kakanin (rice cakes) vendor whose stall is near the parking lot of her Ilagan, Isabela law office, Atty. Salucon learned that three different persons, looking like soldiers, separately came on motorcycle to ask the vendor the usual time of Salucon’s arrival in the office, where she goes when out of the office, who stays in the office while she is away and other related questions. The vendor said the three persons asked the same questions.
  • On the same day she interviewed the vendor, a civilian intelligence operative from the CIS, a group under the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), came to her office asking for her whereabouts. He only left when told Atty. Salucon was at the Hall of Justice. The man returned an hour after only to leave again after Atty. Salucon decided to stay longer at the court.
  • Around lunch on the same day, Atty. Salucon received text messages from the investigator of the CIDG requesting for a copy of the records of a human rights case which was dismissed at the preliminary investigation level. The CIDG investigator said he lost his copies and the record was required, according to him, by the Regional Commander. Atty. Salucon was surprised because it was his third time to ask for a copy, so she decided to just ignore his text messages.
  • On April 3, around 7:30 a.m., while Atty. Salucon’s driver was waiting for her in front of her residence at Poblacion, Burgos, Isabela, a red "Wave" motorcycle passed by the house. The plate number had a tinted plastic cover making the numbers unreadable.

The motorcycle driver looked closely at Atty. Salucon’s driver when he passed by. The man was of medium height, had dark complexion and a haircut similar to that of military/policemen. He had a tattoo on his left arm.  He also had a pistol bag slung around his shoulder.

Then after passing by the whole stretch of Atty. Salucon’s house, the motorcycle rider suddenly made a U-turn and again stared at Atty. Salucon’s driver. Atty. Salucon’s driver tried to get some identification of the man.

Atty. Salucon immediately reported the incident to NUPL and Karapatan. She also sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Isabela. To date, however, no positive report has been made to identify those who were tailing Atty. Salucon, despite clearly stated the military and police units in Salucon’s report.

On April 11, Atty. Salucon with officers of NUPL and Karapatan filed her petition for writ of amparo and habeas data at the Court of Appeals in Manila. The petitions  sought a temporary protection order for her and her immediate family, and for the State security forces mentioned above to disclose and to destroy all pertinent facts, information, statements, records, photographs, dossier and all other evidence, documentary or otherwise, pertaining to her in their files or record.

Atty. Salucon’s name is reportedly included in the military’s Watch List of so-called Communist Terrorist supporters rendering legal services. She is a member of the Philippine Bar and a human rights lawyer since her admission to the Bar. She was initially employed with the Public Attorney’s Office in Isabela.

She has been a public defender for several years, a founding member of, and recently elected National Auditor of the NUPL, a national association of peoples’ lawyers who is principally engaged, among others, in human rights practice. She has actively participated, and is visibly seen in all NUPL activities, even when she was still employed with the PAO.

Atty. Salucon resigned from the PAO and put up her own Law Office in Ilagan, Isabela. As a private lawyer, Atty. Salucon defended several political detainees. Most of her clients are leaders and/or members of peasant and other sectoral and people’s organization, including human rights defenders, who are harassed with trumped up charges.

Among her current clients are Rene Boy Abiva and Virgilio Corpuz, leaders of people’s organizations in Isabela who are facing trumped-up murder and frustrated murder charges before the Regional Trial Court of Lagawe, Ifugao.

UA Date:  12 April 2014

Recommended Action:

Send letters, emails or fax messages calling for:

  1. The immediate formation of an independent fact-finding and investigation team composed of representatives from human rights groups, the Church, local government, and the Commission on Human Rights that will look into the surveillance and threat, harassment and intimidation of human rights lawyer Cathering Dannug-Salucon.
  2. The end to the policy of labeling and targeting of human rights defenders as “members of front organizations of the communists” and “enemies of the state.”
  3. The withdrawal of Oplan Bayanihan, the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency program, that victimizes innnocent and unarmed civilians.
  4. The Philippine Government to observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all the major Human Rights instruments that it is a party and signatory to.


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