Public Lives

Law and its uncertainties

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During certain periods, crime acquires a high visibility, the result usually of diligent reporting by the mass media. “Moral panic” sets in, putting pressure on the police and the courts to show that justice is not asleep. Thus, for a while, the public may be treated to a flurry of arrests and a surge of decisions meting out harsh penalties to convicted offenders. In such ways do societies seek to restore the authority of the law.

There is a downside to this, however. Rights may be violated when the police are forced to resort to shortcuts in order to produce results.  Judges may sometimes issue decisions aimed more at asserting the majesty of the law and deterring future violators than at dispensing justice.

Many years ago, Justice Jerome Frank of the United States Court of Appeals provoked a passionate debate by assailing what he called “the myth of the certainty of law.” A leading advocate of legal realism in his time, Justice Frank contended that a lot of things affected the process by which evidence is transformed into “facts-in-law.”

This phenomenon is of great interest to scholars in the social sciences. Using it as a takeoff point for a book chapter on “Dispute and Settlement,” the anthropologist Max Gluckman synthesized Frank’s controversial thesis thus: “Economic interests, religious values, social and individual prejudices, and even the judge’s or a juryman’s digestive state and particular dislike of witnesses’ idiosyncrasies, or their susceptibility to counsel’s arguments, might influence the course of a suit. Hence decisions of these courts cannot be predicted with assurance, and law is highly uncertain.”

My mind kept returning to this thought as I pondered a recent Supreme Court decision affirming the conviction (for graft and corruption and grave abuse of authority) of two of my colleagues in the University of the Philippines. If the high court sitting en banc upholds this decision of one of its divisions, the two professors will be sent to jail for 17 years and ordered to pay P336,000—the amount of money that was supposed to have been unlawfully collected from the government. In the wake of the media reports on the pork barrel scam, I could not help but compare this princely sum with the billions that legislators allegedly skim with impunity from their pork barrel allocations.

I am not a lawyer, and it is not my business to question the wisdom of our courts. I certainly mean no disrespect. My concern as a sociologist and as a commentator is to show why cases like this, viewed from outside the legal system, do not elicit the same kind of response they get from lawyers and judges.

Dr. Roger Posadas is accused of accepting appointments in 1995 as project director and consultant of a foreign-assisted project to work out the specialized curriculum of a new academic unit inside UP while he was chancellor of UP Diliman. These appointments were issued by Dr. Rolando Dayco, acting as officer-in-charge of the office of the chancellor while Posadas was on an official trip abroad. Posadas oversaw the project to its completion, as a result of which the Technology Management Center is today fully operational. For his services, UP paid him, in addition to his salary as chancellor and professor, P30,000 per month as project director for one year, and a one-time honorarium of a hundred thousand pesos as consultant. These remunerations were paid from a grant by the Canadian government.

These are normal events in university settings, where professors are allowed to augment their meager incomes from the limited practice of their professions and fields of expertise, outside their regular functions as teachers and administrators. Posadas did not hide these additional assignments, but he did not think it was necessary to get the approval of his superior, the UP president, to take them on. That was probably a mistake.

The courts have since judged these appointments to be illegal and the money paid out to him as constituting double compensation. The two professors have been pronounced guilty of conspiring to give undue advantage to Posadas, resulting in injury to the government.

One would think that, in situations like this, where an appointment turns out to be invalid, it would suffice to simply revoke it and to demand the return of whatever compensation had been paid. In severe cases, disciplinary action like reprimand or suspension might be imposed on erring officials.

But everything about this case seems to have been blown out of proportion. The then UP president, Dr. Emil Javier, went on to file administrative charges against the two professors, and, after an investigation, ordered their dismissal from the service. The board of regents softened this action into “forced resignation,” and gave them the option to re-apply for reinstatement after one year if they publicly apologized.

The two accepted this punishment with a heavy heart, believing they were being persecuted, and resigned. That is where it could have ended. But, President Javier, who was finishing his term, had taken the additional step of filing criminal charges before the Ombudsman. From there, the case assumed a life of its own and reached the Sandiganbayan, which rendered a judgment of conviction in 2005.  It was then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Dissenting from the majority opinion which upheld the Sandiganbayan ruling, Supreme Court Justice Roberto Abad voted to acquit Posadas and Dayco, arguing that bad faith had not been proven, and firmly convinced that they “did not willfully defraud the government.” At times like this, the law does seem uncertain.

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  • cogito728sum

    What this case clearly illustrates is that when it comes to the manipulative exercise of power, even the academe– if these two gentlemen are convicted guilty with finality, (read no flip-flopping)– is not spared of this evil. It is doubly sad since these gentlemen, together with the institution they are associated with, are supposed to be the nurturers and breeding ground of knowledge. As such, they’re supposed to be the role model in proper decision making. But instead, they showed an acumen at doctoring,hocus pocus, both being doctors, that may not necessarily be associated with their doctorate degrees.

    What is extremely alarming is that the schizophrenia Conrado was talking about the other day, which seems to have infected the President himself by comparing as “peanut” the amount scammed during his administration compared to that of his predecessor, may not only have infested the Diliman campus itself but may even be influencing the thinking of my most esteemed professor/columnist. But as poster coladu rightly observed below, corruption is corruption irrespective of the amount involved. And when people presumed to be of highest standard of integrity are themselves involved in what appears to be a form of corruption, what hope is there left for the country? Merci!

    • cogito728sum

      Accident, sorry! Merci!

    • Edgar Lores

      That, and not Hamlet’s, is the question. You expect politicians to be corrupt. Some judges, yes. Some media people, yes. Most priests, yes. The police, certainly. But teachers?

      • Mamang Pulis

        …yes sir, teachers are corruptible…

      • cogito728sum

        Aha my friend. How lucky can you get. I had a similar sweeping generalization of the corrupts in society which disqus disallowed because of including the pious among the group. “Papano ka nakalusot?” That is the ultimate question. Merci!

      • Edgar Lores

        “Only those possessed of true virtue can enter into the Kingdom!” ;-)

        (Translation: I don’t belong to any of those groups. I used to be in IT.) Thanks.

  • Matt Artagham

    I cannot believe the idiotic comments posted here believing these academes did it in bad faith. They were not hiding their actions, so it was not intentional. Filipinos should know this concept by now. Do you really think they are dumb enough to commit theft or fraud and risk their positions and reputations in the Philippines and in countries where they are also respected? Do you know how much HARDWORK they have to do to be able to achieve their academic accomplishments? Obviously you do not understand how these UP Professors dedicate themselves in molding the next generations of Filipinos specifically to know how to take a step back, observe, search, learn before making uninformed stupid comments. These professors can go back to their prestigious grad Universities abroad, take fellowships, do lectures and get paid a lot of money and enjoy the support of appreciative communities BUT they choose to remain in the Philippines because they have this passion and belief they can make a difference. Yes, you have to have passion to do what they’re are doing! Your UP Professors and faculty have the best training, education, unquestionable dedication, paid cheap salaries and still you unfairly persecute them. Whoever made the case against them either has a personal vendetta or has the brain narrower than yours or both. Shame on the Philippines if these teachers are punished.

  • Matt Artagham

    I cannot believe the idiotic comments of people who say these academes did what they did in bad faith. They were not hiding their actions, so it was not willful or intentional. Besides, do you really think these Doctors will commit theft or fraud and risk or throw away their hard work, positions and reputation in the Philippines and in countries where they are respected? These PHD professors can go back to their prestigious graduate universities, apply for fellowships, do research, lecturing positions, make a ton of money, get legal immigration status, live in a modern world and enjoy the support of the appreciative communities they serve. BUT they choose to stay in the Philippines because they have this PASSION and belief that they can make a difference in molding the next generation, specifically to mentor our young to take a step back, observe, learn, search, before making uninformed stupid comments like the people below. YES PASSION! You have to have passion to do what they do. Shame on the Philippines if these teachers are punished. Whoever initiated this case against them clearly has a personal vendetta , has a very narrow brain or both. Your UP Faculty have the best training, unparalleled dedication, paid cheap salaries and yet these academes unfairly persecuted.

  • DannyGane

    An earthquake whether 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 or 8.0 in magnitude is always an earthquake. But the damage is greater and more widespread with an increase in magnitude. Logic dictates, a corruption case should also be penalized depending on the amount corrupted…

  • shioktong

    The effectiveness of the so called “the rule of law” in the Philippines varies and depends on the person-on-trial influences & social status.

  • WeAry_Bat

    As time goes by, part and piece of my cover drifts away…

    I am a former student of Roger Posadas. From my first hand experience of the seemingly cold and calculating professor, my guess is…

    He just did it. No red tape, BS and all the convolutions which makes any government and government-related projects go astray. He finished the project.

    Don’t think I am paying back. He gave me teenager grades and I dropped his subject.

    EDIT:
    Is the water a bit clearer now, has some pieces fallen in place? Ever felt this was a matter of a candy taken away from someone who had plans for it. Another company or consultant; if not, a promise of a post, membership, directorship.

  • Rex_Ranhilio

    David says that the acts complained of “are normal events in university settings”.

    I suppose he is speaking from experience.

    More importantly, Drs. Posadas and Dayco should not have forgotten that while they are in the “university setting”, they are also public officials, on whom the anti-graft law is applicable – regardless of the amount involved.

  • eight_log

    Those who are suppose to be the pillars of education … the guiding light when comes to morality must be meted the most severe of punishment when an infraction of a law is committed by them. They are worst than a hungry committing a crime … they are worst than a politician who steals peoples’ money!!!!

    This is no different than those shouting before down with corruption but when their time come they do the same thing … to me these kind of people are the worst corruptors and grafters!!!!!

  • Eustaquio Joven

    Dissenting from the majority opinion which upheld the Sandiganbayan ruling, Supreme Court Justice Roberto Abad voted to acquit Posadas and Dayco, arguing that bad faith had not been proven, and firmly convinced that they “did not willfully defraud the government.” At times like this, the law does seem uncertain.

    Criminals should not be punished, unless bad faith is proven. Defrauding the government is not a crime, unless it is willfully done. Is this what professor David teaches? It’s okay for justice Abad to have this kind of reasoning. He is anti-RH law.

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