Extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the Philippines have raised concerns among Filipinos—the latest Social Weather Stations survey showed 8 of every 10 Filipinos are concerned that they or someone they know could be the next EJK victim. And with President Duterte repeatedly proclaiming that the war on drugs will continue, these killings will certainly go unabated. And except for a very few, the victims come from the poor sector.
While the majority of Filipinos still support the President in his drug war, a growing number is becoming more loud in insisting that due process be observed. It may be noted though that the President himself has admitted that during his stint as state prosecutor in Davao City, due process did not work because of corruption in the police and the judiciary.
The logical move then is to first fix the broken judicial system. This avenue is, however, not being pursued by the President. The present attempts to restore capital punishment, coupled with the President’s pledge to have five to six executions every day will make the situation of the poor even worse.
While the poor face harsh consequences, including death (extrajudicial or otherwise), for running afoul with the law, it is totally different with the rich and the politically well-connected. Take the bizarre high-profile corruption cases (to which congressional hearings kept us glued via TV) that filled us with so much disgust and anger after revelations of the blatant corrupt activities in high places. Those hearings clearly established that crimes were committed; they also showed strong evidence of guilt on the part of the “suspects.” We had hoped there would be prompt prosecutions and just decisions. Boy, were we so dead wrong!
Not only were cases not filed yet; where they have been filed, the trial is taking so long; and where they have been resolved, most of the accused, except for some “small fry,” have been freed or acquitted! This again shows clearly that the judicial process does not work: Perpetrators are acquitted as if no crime were committed? Is it because of the brilliance of defense lawyers; or is it the fault (intentional or otherwise) of prosecutors, because the judges are compromised; or is it a combination of any of the above?
Look at the long list of these corruption cases: Among them, those filed against former president Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies; the Industrias Metalúrgicas Pescarmona (Impsa) bribery scandal; the “Hello Garci” tapes; the NBN-ZTE contract; the fertilizer fund scam; the PDAF kickbacks; and so on.
After years of court proceedings, the accused principals were acquitted.
But did the acquittals come because the accused were found innocent of the charges, or the evidence presented was not enough to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt? What about the poor who cannot afford an expensive and brilliant lawyer who has the ability to exploit strict rules of evidence to defend them and get them acquitted?
As if these were not enough, the Supreme Court affirmed that Marcos may be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, notwithstanding previous decisions it and the US courts rendered, finding the dictator guilty of human rights violations and of amassing unexplained wealth. Clearly, our judicial system needs to be fixed—or perhaps our values are gravely misplaced.
President Duterte has repeatedly said he will stop the drug menace and eradicate corruption. While his war on drugs is very “obvious,” the same cannot be said of his anticorruption drive. In the recent Jack Lam P50-million bribery scandal, the President sacked the two Bureau of Immigration officials involved; they happen to be his frat brods—to show the country that he is sincere in fighting corruption. But shouldn’t criminal cases be filed against all those involved?
Hopefully, they will be prosecuted immediately and within six months, if found guilty, imprisoned. The country awaits.
David L. Balangue ([email protected]) is chair of the Coalition Against Corruption, the Philippine Center for Population and Development, and the National Movement for Free Elections.
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