Taken at face value I do appreciate the words of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who said, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the 1987 Constitution, that it is “more than a statement of principles and a collection of hopes and aspirations but has paved the way for a ‘vibrant democracy’ and provided a fertile ground for the rule of law to be nourished.” (“Sereno: Constitution puts focus on human rights, sovereignty,” News, 2/2/17)
Knowing what is happening on the ground, I question where that “vibrant democracy” is.
Marites Marquez and Rosario Loreto, two Dumagat mothers, have been arrested and kept in jail since September 2015 because the military accused them of kidnapping a retired soldier. Their arrest was declared illegal by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Unfortunately, the judge decided to conduct hearings which turned out more to be “nonhearings”—that is, hearing postponements for one reason or another, which have resulted in months, and now years of indefinite imprisonment: Justice delayed is justice denied.
Which means, too, that the children who have been separated from their mothers have been literally tortured as much as the mothers are. We have asked the Supreme Court to hasten the trial, but nothing has happened. I wonder where this “vibrant democracy” really is.
Maybe for “big people” jailed for plunder but immediately set free, the 1987 Constitution does mean much. But for these Dumagat women and their families and the countless poor people who have been languishing in jail on trumped-up charges, the 1987 Constitution does not mean anything at all—just a scrap of “advertising” paper.
Will the Chief Justice initiate reforms in the judiciary to prove that this “vibrant democracy” can become a reality for all Filipinos?
FR. PETE MONTALLANA, Indigenous People’s Apostolate coordinator of the Diocese of Infanta, [email protected]
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