July 12, 2007

Legal battles

Recent legal victories of well-known Left personalities such as Anakpawis representative and former chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and Kilusang Mayo Uno, Crispin Beltran, as well as Prof. Jose Maria Sison, founding chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines and currently chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front in peace talks with the Philippine government, underscore the fact that progressives and even avowed revolutionaries will not shirk from fighting in the legal arena despite its known pitfalls and built-in biases against them.

Mr. Beltran was finally released from “hospital detention” Tuesday night after the Supreme Court ruled with finality that the rebellion case against him, five other progressive legislators and scores of other individuals including Mr. Sison, should be dismissed for lack of probable cause and due process. He had been detained for more than 15 months since his illegal arrest a day after the declaration of emergency rule last year.

Mr. Sison, on the other hand, won a landmark decision before the European Court of First Instance (ECFI) in Luxembourg regarding his listing by the Council of the EU as a “terrorist”. According to the International Committee for the Defense of Jose Ma.Sison, “The ECFI ruled that the Council of the EU violated the rights of Prof. Sison to defense, the obligation to state reasons and the right to effective judicial protection. There had never been any competent judicial authority calling him to a criminal investigation or any court hearing regarding any terrorist act.”

This observation is apropos because of unrelenting accusations from the government, including the Melo Commission, that human rights groups like Karapatan had undermined the work of the Commission by refusing to cooperate with it and influencing Hustisya, the organization of human rights victims under the Arroyo regime, to do the same. Unknown to the public, Karapatan and its lawyers had continuing discreet meetings with members of the Commission and its legal panel and had provided it with many documents (still unreturned to date) that were used as basis for the body’s findings against Gen Jovito Palparan and other military commanders.

Open participation in the Melo Commission’s proceedings by such groups however eventually became meaningless and even foolhardy when the Commission bungled the task of winning these groups’ trust and confidence. Serious doubts they raised about the body’s independence, lack of powers, e.g. to protect witnesses, and the capacity to pursue the prosecution of identified perpetrators were not acted upon. Karapatan’s misgivings have been validated by the fact that Mrs. Arroyo has not taken any concrete steps to follow through on the serious charges made by her own Commission against her favored general, Jovito Palparan.

In marked contrast, human rights organizations and other advocates that the government labels as being “communist front organizations”, cooperated fully with the various independent fact-finding missions such as those of Amnesty International, UN Special Rapporteurs, the Interparliamentary Union, Human Rights Watch and many other international bodies. The deciding factor: the latter groups’ willingness to seek the truth from facts and to work to put a stop to the extrajudicial killings even though, or more so, because state forces are implicated as likely perpetrators.

In fact, even Bayan and other national democratic formations stereotyped by government as always seeking violent confrontations with the police in street demonstrations and incapable of reasoned argument and sober dialogue, have filed numerous cases at the Commission on Human Rights, the Ombudsman and in the various courts, including the Supreme Court, to seek redress of grievances and pursue the ends of justice.

Sadly, outside of the Supreme Court, such groups’ experience with the justice system has been very disappointing, if not frustrating. Invariably, especially in criminal cases such as the murder of their leaders and members and complaints of gross human rights violations, perpetrators have gotten away scot free while witnesses and the complainants have suffered harassment, intimidation and even death at the hands of suspected masterminds who are in positions of authority.

Take the case of Mr. Beltran. His case exemplifies the brand of "justice" reserved for those branded as “Leftists” (meaning “communists”) under this regime. Despite gross violations of due process and patently fabricated evidence (such as perjured testimony that he was seen in Batangas with rebel military officers on the day that his physical presence at sessions in the Batasan was clearly recorded on video and official HOR records), he had to languish under detention for a year and a half.

The Supreme Court’s dismissal of the rebellion case appears at first glance to be an assurance that there are still institutions and processes that uphold the rule of law. Instead, it has only served to expose the harsh reality that the capacity of government instrumentalities to disregard, distort and/or circumvent the law -- in the name of “national security” -- knows no bounds.

Quite recently, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales summarily removed a state prosecutor working on the case of desaparecido Jonas Burgos because he had allegedly prematurely disclosed the names of six military personnel who were prime suspects in the Burgos abduction and thus put government in a bad light. In the aforementioned case of the Batasan 6 et al, Mr. Gonzales had no such qualms in depriving the accused their right to due process when he and his prosecutors engaged in what the Supreme Court pointedly scored as the “obvious involvement of political considerations in (their) actuations.”

The Arroyo regime’s rush to implement the Anti-Terrorism Act despite the lack of Implementing Rules and Regulations and a sufficient public information effort speaks loudly of its unspoken objective: to tilt the balance in the legal arena towards an oppressive government that needs a fascist law to win its battles against so-called enemies of the state.###


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