Guilt, Innocence and ViolenceBy Jose Ma. Montelibano
It is as things are meant to be, a composite of what man proposes and God disposes. It has been a sustained desire, albeit restrained, of Filipinos for meaningful change. That change with lots of drama is now ongoing indicates just how much change we want, and how many of us feel similarly —plus what plans and their timing are in store for us from God, life or evolution.
The filing of plunder and related charges by the NBI with the Ombudsman against 38 persons led by Janet Napoles, three serving senators and two former members of Congress is the first legal salvo triggered by the 10-billion-scam controversy. The Ombudsman would have to review the filed cases and come up with its own conclusion to bring these to the next stage, and or even reject them if it finds no strong legal merit. Should the Ombudsman file the cases with the Sandiganbayan, and the Sandiganbayan accepts these for trial, arrest warrants can be expected.
This drama is intensified as another event is gripping the nation’s attention—the Zamboanga drama provoked by an arrogant and despicable attempt to blackmail government by using force against innocent civilians. A Nur Misuari faction of MNLF rebels chose to stage a protest action with the use of armed force and hostage-taking, the kind of behavior that continues to define a warped perspective of Muslim and Christian relations, that takes advantage of historical conflict and stokes it, and that assumes the perpetrators, led by Nur Misuari, are the main, if not only, anointed group to lead the whole Muslim world of Mindanao.
Two dramas happening simultaneously, both natural consequences of long unresolved issues —corruption by government leaders and historical conflict between Muslims and Christians. These dramas will not end quickly and will tend to take on more forms. Like skeletons in a closet, when the door of the closet is opened, many skeletons will come tumbling down. We are seeing the first batch but much, much more can be anticipated. It could be a roller-coaster, so let’s fasten our seatbelts.
A senator said he had faced plunder charges before and survived. He says he is not afraid to face plunder charges again and will be proven innocent in the end. He should not be so flippant, and I believe he is not. The circumstances surrounding his case before and the circumstances of his case now are very different—except that he is now twice accused of plunder. That he was not convicted of plunder before did not prove his innocence although the prosecutors then did not prove his guilt.
The accused, under one principle of law, is considered innocent until proven guilty. The 38 who have been accused by the NBI before the Ombudsman cannot be considered guilty because it is still a few steps before a trial under the Sandignbayan. But the court of public opinion, aided by a sustained distrust of politicians, usually considers the accused as guilty before proven innocent. And proving innocence is not as easy as not being convicted, especially if one has a propensity for being accused of the same crime.
Another senator has appealed not to be judged before he is given a chance to present his side. Unfortunately, he will be judged. And in this context when he is not alone in the case, when there are 37 others who are accused, when there is a truckload of documentary evidence, where there are many whistle-blowers giving corroborating stories, when a whole people are hungry for blood, he will be judged guilty before he says a word.
All three senators now formally accused of plunder say they will fight to prove their innocence. Brave words, maybe braver spirits, but nobody expected them anyway to admit to wrongdoing. From accusation to trial to conviction or exoneration is a long process, from Sandiganbayan to a final Supreme Court decision can be like forever. They will all say they are innocent and are prepared to fight all the way.
History favors them; the experience of trying to get the Marcoses convicted shows just how difficult our legal process can be. But the Estrada experience may find all three senators plus two former members of the House of Representatives in detention without bail until a final judgment of the courts. That would be another first in Philippine history.
Beneath the surface of corruption charges being levied to senior public officials, elected and appointed, beneath the violence of Nur Misuari and his faction of Muslim rebels, are issues that have long plagued Philippine society and beg resolution. Patronage politics is an ancient scourge, especially in the world of monarchies and royalties.
Corruption is just as old and kickbacks from contracts that favour certain suppliers and contractors are allegations thrown at every administration since Filipinos took over government. And the Muslim rebellion may appear to be against Christians but one day will have to expect that Muslim leaders may have to answer for their own shortcomings, or wrongdoing, against their own people.
It may be time. For Filipinos who want real, substantial change, persistence and sacrifice will have to be their investment. For the traditional politicians, their sense of entitlement will be severely challenged, and the “no wang-wang” of P-Noy is just the beginning. This is not only about a Constitution and the spirit that provoked its creation. This is about evolution itself. Where will it take us? Will it all the more push the journey from darkness to light, from secrecy to transparency, from the rich and powerful exploiting the rest to leading the march for reform and transformation?
As the ugliness of corruption is vomited in a very public manner, the reaction will be intense and demanding. As more Muslims pray for peace and progress in Mindanao, the pattern of violence will find less adherents. If the game is left only to the older generations, the odds are little to none in favour of change. But new generations are born who are not defensive about past mistakes and believe that their purpose in life is to build their dreams.
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