Welcome to the Club, Senator Faeldon
Nicanor Faeldon is now a shoo-in for a Senate seat in 2019 thanks to Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, and members of the body who voted to detain the former Customs commissioner at the Senate and had him transferred later to the Pasay City jail. In fact, a prolonged stay at the Pasay City facility will further cement his victory and even move him up the ladder of winning candidates in the coming elections.
History is replete with stories of individuals who in their early political careers were imprisoned unjustly when they refused to kowtow to the powers-that-be or when the authorities aimed to silence, intimidate, or humiliate their opponents. In the end, the prisoners ended up as the leaders of their countries.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president after being imprisoned for 27 years by the Afrikaner regime. He would be known as “father of the nation.”
In 1952, Jomo Kenyatta was imprisoned by the British for seven years. Upon his release he would become Kenya’s first president following the end of British rule. Like Mandela, Kenyatta is also referred to as “father of the nation.”
Closer to home, in 1992 Jose “Xanana” Gusmao became the first president of independent East Timor after being locked up by Indonesian security forces for seven years. He was originally sentenced to life imprisonment.
At home, Antonio Trillanes IV, who was imprisoned for more than seven years, was elected senator from his prison cell. Despite the lack of a political machinery, financial resources, exposure to media, and the inability to campaign freely throughout the land, he won by more than 11 million votes.
Our people have a soft spot for the underdog and the more we demonize the underdog, their sympathies, often unspoken, grow stronger and are reflected in the votes that they cast.
Our Constitution provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law …”
Nicanor Faeldon has been deprived of his liberty and confined to the Senate basement and a city jail since Sept. 11, 2017 — a total of almost five months without any charges being filed against him. Some legal luminaries may say that he is being detained legally for contempt of the Senate by showing disrespect toward certain senators during a hearing conducted by the Senate blue ribbon committee. That may be true but when the individual has to beg for permission to attend to his wife or his loved one who is about to give birth to their child, the average Filipino may not look too kindly on such severe impositions for mere contempt. To my mind, it would have been the perfect occasion to show magnanimity and to forgive Faeldon for his supposed “arrogance” that translated into contempt. Unfortunately, overweening pride and huge egos sometimes make us blind to what simple decency and human kindness can bring about in our lives.
Let me also point out that during the period Faeldon was detained at the Senate facility, the following events took place:
The Department of Justice (DOJ) cleared Faeldon of involvement in the smuggling case that was the basis of the blue ribbon committee hearings.
After being cleared by the DOJ, Faeldon was appointed to a new position as deputy administrator in the Office of Civil Defense by President Duterte in a show of trust and confidence. One may not be comfortable with the appointment but the President has seen it fit to name Faeldon to another government office. After the new appointment, Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo was reported as having visited the Senate to seek Faeldon’s release.
Today Nicanor Faeldon still languishes in a city jail for the “crime” of showing disrespect toward our senators. We ought to keep in mind that respect is not a one-way street. It moves in both directions. Unfortunately, at times some senators show no respect at all for witnesses who are at their mercy during Senate hearings. The poor witnesses are at times bullied, brow-beaten and shouted at. If they are slow in replying, or if they get nervous and are tongue-tied, more questions are thrown at them. Many are mere resource persons but from the tone of the questioning, one would think that they are suspects or convicted criminals. The only time I noticed a change in the manner of questioning by some senators was when the witness was a relative of the President. The Senate President himself attended the hearing to ensure that everything was carried out in the most respectful manner.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, Nicanor Faeldon was one of the core group of mutineers who took over the Oakwood Premier apartments in Makati in July 2003. He was with Senator Trillanes and others who were detained as a result of the mutiny. After returning to barracks as agreed upon with government negotiators, authorities suddenly turned around and threw out the conditions that have been negotiated earlier.
Faeldon escaped from detention and in spite of a nationwide manhunt order, the Armed Forces of the Philippines was never able to recapture him. For one thing, many in the AFP considered him their friend, perhaps even their hero.
His boyhood dream was to become a soldier so after graduation from the National University, he took up an ROTC commission and ended up in the Marine Corps, attending the force reconnaissance course, the Marine equivalent of Army special forces training. A meeting with then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 2012 brought him to the close attention of the President who liked what he saw. We have not heard the last of Nicanor Faeldon.
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