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An Independent View
Monday, October 22, 2012
'Written laws are like spiders' webs, they will catch, it is true, the weak and poor but would be torn in pieces by the rich and powerful' - Anacharis 6thC BC.
Anacharis' words are more relevant to 21st Century AD Philippines than we would like. If a Bacolod housewife is caught dealing in drugs as a result of a 'buy-bust' operation by the police, we expect her to be punished even though the amount of shabu involved, 0.01 grams, is miniscule. Life imprisonment for this offense is, however, too harsh a penalty.
In contrast, it comes as no surprise that the 'Alabang Boys,' apparently scions of the wealthy, who were caught with a spectacular range and quantity of drugs, were found not guilty on technicalities due to alleged mishandling of evidence by PDEA at the time of their arrest in 2008. The charges against two of the accused, Richard Brodett and Jorge Joseph, were dismissed by Muntinlupa RTC last year. The third accused, Joseph Tecson, was acquitted by Judge Elvira Panganiban of Quezon City RC last week.
PDEA is an acronym for the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. We wonder, therefore, whether the objective of this ambiguously named entity is to enforce or prevent the use of drugs. [When Ping Lacson was PNP chief he instituted the now defunct 'Philippine Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF).' At least there was no ambiguity in the name, although some of its alleged activities were murky].
The Court of Public Opinion says: "the Alabang boys were caught with drugs under circumstances and involving quantities that indicated an intent to sell. The fact that the Judicial Branch saw fit to acquit them means not only the proven incompetence and strong suspicion of PDEA corruption, but a Judicial Branch which tends to acquit the rich but not the poor. Even without the inferior quality of evidence provided by PDEA officer Jose Tomabini, there was enough prosecution evidence to convict. A trial by jury would have been helpful in this case."
The Alabang boys case exemplifies some of the problems to be faced by CJ Sereno.
If a crime has been committed, then society is entitled to expect the forces of law and order to be marshaled so that the circumstances of the crime are investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice. Does this happen? Not usually.
Our system of justice depends on those who have suffered as a result of the crime to suddenly become expert lobbyists-able to manipulate the media and to persuade influential officials to take a sustained interest in the case.
An ongoing example is the case of Marvin Reglos who died allegedly as a result of injuries incurred during a fraternity initiation. Even with the endless prodding of the Reglos family, we despair as to whether the case will ever be dealt with properly. Already too much time has elapsed. There is insufficient action. Arrest warrants are slow to emerge. Justice Secretary de Lima made assertive comments when Reglos' death was announced but has not showed the continued interest that is necessary if justice is to prevail.
There may be some unspoken feeling that the Anti-Hazing Act, RA 8049, is too harsh on the wrongdoers. Too bad! Republic Acts, which undergo detailed debate in Congress before being signed by the President, are not to be sidelined, except by another Republic Act.
Two major contributions that CJ Sereno can make are:
(a) The speedier resolution of cases.
(b) To understand that society requires justice. If Marvin Reglos were an orphan, it should not make any difference to the disposition of his case. Nor should it matter whether Reglos' family is rich or poor. But at present it does. We believe that some of the families of the accused are wealthier than the Reglos family and that, under current circumstances, this means that the Reglos family is less likely to obtain justice. It is vital that Sereno is effective in reducing corruption.
Due to the length of her term, 18 years, Sereno has the chance to establish her place in Philippine history. To do this, however, she needs to overcome corruption, not only in the Judicial Branch but in all government instrumentalities, such as PDEA/NBI/PNP, which impinge on the Judicial Branch.
Late last year, when the Integrated Bar of the Philippines was campaigning against the impeachment of former CJ Corona, the argument was used that the Judicial Branch, one of the three co-equal branches of government, was, in fact, the weakest. This was not true then and is not true now.
CJ Sereno, in her reported statements at the recent Judges' Conference in Bacolod, made it clear that she intended to ensure that all the allowances given to judges will be retained. We agree with this important pronouncement. A challenging time will come in mid-2013 when she submits the Judicial Branch's budget for 2014. By then she will have identified the organizational developments that she is seeking.
At the Bacolod conference she mentioned that all judges should have Legal Assistants. We agree. This should help to reduce the inordinate delays in bringing cases to a conclusion. For example the case brought by SMPHI against the Province a year ago cannot have the complexity that justifies this delay. A qualified Legal Assistant could, within a working week, examine whether the SMPHI case comes with the purview of Bacolod RTC and, if it does, to establish the salient facts. The resulting brief would enable the judge to understand the relevant points so that, at a hearing, the representations made by SMPHI and the Province could be quickly evaluated and a decision reached. The consequences of Judicial indecision are serious and in the SMPHI case have done demonstrable damage to the economy of Negros Occidental.
By eliminating judicial delays, Sereno could become a National Hero!
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 22, 2012.