THAT was quick.
Fifteen days after lawyer Joey Wee was murdered in the building that houses his office in Kasambagan early afternoon on November 23, the National Bureau of Investigation arrested the principal suspect in Cabuyao, Laguna where he was reportedly working as a supervisor in a security agency.
The local NBI, headed by Regional Director Renan Oliva, deserves praise for the capture even if it was, according to a press statement, a joint operation with other units of the agency. At least one other person was involved in the crime, too; a video that circulated a few days after the killing showed at least two men carrying a gun, one of them pointed at Mrs. Wee who was trailing him. From what the NBI team has shown so far, there is very little doubt that he and if there are others would be caught, too.
What the public is interested to know is if there is a mastermind and if he has been identified. The popular belief is that there is, considering that the suspect who is in custody is based in Laguna. Unless, he has a very deep personal grudge against Wee, he wouldn’t have taken the trouble of traveling to Cebu just to kill him if someone had not hired him.
Since popular belief has little value in a criminal investigation, I asked the NBI Central Visayas regional director if Fausto Edgar Benigno Peralta is a gun-for-hire but Renan was understandably tight-lipped, revealing only that the suspect is an Ilocano ex-soldier who had assignments in Mindanao and Quezon.
Wee was the 53rd member of the bar to be killed during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, who ironically is also a lawyer, and out of this number only five have reached the courts, according to a Philippine Star report citing Rappler’s figures.
It must be pointed out though, in fairness to everyone, that many lawyers were also killed during the previous presidencies except that no one was keeping accurate count. Alas, a violent death has become a real hazard that lawyers have come to acknowledge. I remember a lecture during one of the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education seminars that I attended that dwelt on how to avoid assassination. The idea of looking to your left, to your right and to the front before you step out of or board a car gave me the creeps.
Not all of the threats to a lawyer’s life are work-related but most are. Society has not matured enough to be able to see the fine distinction between an advocate and his client. A litigant’s hatred is too often projected onto his opponent/enemy’s lawyer. Happily that enmity does not all the time translate into violence, otherwise the profession would have been extinct by now.
I knew Joey, I had a Zoom meeting with him and some others a few weeks before his death. About 20 years ago, he had me subpoenaed at the behest of his client to appear before Judge Ester Veloso on one of the many cases between his client and two brothers over a parking dispute.
I knew nothing about the case other than what appeared in media reports although I commented on it (but so did PA Seares and he was not subpoenaed, sigh) and I was furious that my time had been wasted on such questions as how many hours it took me to write my column and how I transmitted it to this paper. Joey and I had a good back and forth during my examination but as soon as we stepped out of Judge Veloso’s courtroom, we were friends again. I may not have liked his questions but he had a job to do for his client.
Unfortunately, such refinements are alien to some people. And here is where we hope for help from our law enforcers and all those involved in the justice delivery system by ensuring that any act of violence against a lawyer is justly and promptly punished. When litigants realize the near-certainty of being caught and punished, they will most likely be deterred from hiring a gunman or if they’re not too cowardly, from pulling the trigger themselves.
In other words, remind them that crime does not pay.