January 14, 2005

Retrograde justice

Some say the wheels of justice grind very slowly in this country. Others say these have stopped turning. Both views are wrong. For some time now, the wheels of justice have been grinding backwards.

Take the plunder case of former President Joseph Estrada. At the rate the Sandiganbayan special division has been stretching the bounds of the law by allowing Estrada's "house arrest" in his Tanay mansion, flip-flopping on its decisions such as allowing him to go abroad for surgery when he can very well have it done in Manila, and tolerating the obvious violations of the conditions of his jail pass such as entertaining his former Cabinet officials in a plush hotel in Hong Kong -- the suspicion of Plunder Watch and private prosecutors that a "not guilty" verdict is in the offing gains credence by the day.

Malacañang is no less to blame despite avowals of "non-interference" in the judiciary. President Arroyo has sent clear signals what her policy of "reconciliation" with the Estrada camp really means.

According to former Sen. Salonga, Mrs. Arroyo will do anything, including obstruct justice, to stay in power. Which is why "(f)rom the time she ascended to the presidency in January 2001, GMA has (had) no use for the rule of law...(s)he had always wanted Estrada to go scot-free abroad." This explains the indulgent attitude, lenient handling and even solicitous assistance given by Mrs. Arroyo's subalterns, Department of Foreign Affairs bureaucrats and the Philippine National Police to Mr. Estrada in his latest foray out of detention.

Precedents abound in this and past administrations that even when the police are miraculously able to arrest the perpetrator of a heinous crime and the courts somehow are able to send the guilty off to jail, the Chief Executive still manages to flout the law by quietly allowing lenient treatment and even granting pardon to the convicted rapist, murderer and plunderer when no one is looking.

The key factor to watch out for is how rich and influential the convict is, for that makes all the difference. See how no less than the Department of Justice secretary loudly and shamelessly bats for allowing convicted rapist and former congressman Romeo Jalosjos to be freed from jail for "humanitarian reasons."

On the other side of the same coin, we are witness to the high profile endorsement by Mrs. Arroyo of the peace-and-order methods of Davao City mayor Duterte, quite recently aped by the similarly gung-ho mayor of Cebu City. In a word -- vigilantism -- inspired, aided and abetted, if not organized and funded, by no less than the local government. Former Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena calls it "lawless violence sanctified."

Worse, much worse, the duly constituted authorities, the self-proclaimed guardians of the people's interests, have become the very perpetrators of further injustices against the victims of social iniquities. All too often the victims themselves are the first to be accused by the authorities as the guilty party.

Remember the Mendiola massacre of Jan. 22, 1987? Even before the official investigations could begin, the police and military immediately accused the peasant demonstrators of provoking the shootings and planning to attack Malacañan Palace; they promptly charged the leaders with inciting to rebellion.

Charging at rallyists with truncheons flailing, and then charging their maimed and bloodied victims with offenses ranging from traffic obstruction, illegal assembly, assault on persons of authority, to inciting to rebellion, have been the standard operating procedure of the police and military, applied with varying degrees of intolerance depending on the political climate and "orders from the higher-ups."

Remember Acsa Ramirez, the whistle-blower at the Land Bank, who was quickly transformed by the NBI to a suspected criminal and conspirator to spruce up a Malacañang occupant's sagging popularity. More recently, the ordinary folk scraping a living in the foothills of Sierra Madre, who lost their lives, homes and loved ones in the destruction that followed a series of tropical typhoons, were callously and falsely accused by the same Malaca§ang occupant of themselves causing the denudation of the forests and thereby causing such tragedy to befall them.

In the countryside and even in town centers and in the metropolis, ordinary peasants and workers, social activists and grassroots leaders are routinely harassed, picked up, illegally detained, tortured and summarily executed on the bases of mere suspicion or allegation of rebellion.

What is most alarming is when the government adopts a policy not merely of tolerating, but of encouraging such dastardly crimes committed by those tasked to protect the citizenry. Not only do the culprits remain at large, they are even handsomely rewarded with official citations and promotions.

A certain Col. Jovito Palparan comes to mind. Palparan's term as AFP commander in Mindoro Oriental was said to be the bloodiest in terms of blatant and systematic violations of human rights by the military. He was recently promoted to general over the vehement objections of victims and their families and despite a bevy of complaints filed at the Human Rights commission, Justice department and Congress.

It is not surprising then that as the smoke of the Nov. 16 bloody dispersal of striking workers at Hacienda Luisita had yet to clear, Mrs. Arroyo's Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rene Villa and, as expected, the honorable officers of the PNP and AFP, began pointing the accusing finger back at the dead and wounded workers and their supporters. The Arroyo government would have us believe that those at the receiving end of tanks, teargas, water cannons, and hundreds of police, military and security men armed with high-powered rifles had actually provoked the carnage.

As a fitting conclusion, we recently found out at a Senate hearing on the Hacienda Luisita massacre and related matters, that PNP chief Aglipay's worthy act of relieving the Central Luzon regional police chief of his post in the wake of the incident was only meant to promote the guy. Chief superintendent Quirino de la Torre is now PNP comptroller.

What more can we say.

Jan. 14-15, 2005


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