Right place for Mike | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Right place for Mike

/ 01:07 AM September 07, 2011

The original crime is bad enough. Its prosecution, if mishandled, would be worse. That is now the fear being expressed by observers at the apparently hasty decision made by the Philippine National Police to file plunder charges against former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and several others in connection with the reportedly irregular purchase of second-hand helicopters by the PNP in 2009 from Arroyo himself.

What fuels the suspicion that the PNP is rushing the case and perhaps setting the ground for Arroyo et. al.’s eventual acquittal on technicalities is the weakness of the plunder rap at this point. Or, rather, its overkill nature. The most apt and logical public crime under which the alleged fraudulent sale of the choppers would fall would be graft. But even at this level, the evidence presented so far at the Senate hearings has yet to coalesce into an airtight, unassailable whole. Pertinent questions still remain, significant gaps in documentation and corroborating information still need to be gathered for a more complete and thorough picture of this complex case. And yet, here is the PNP, jumping the gun on the Senate blue ribbon committee, which has yet to wrap up its findings on the accusations against Arroyo and a phalanx of active and retired police officers who had allegedly conspired to seal the deal.

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In an ideal environment, filing formal charges before the proper court is, of course, a vastly preferable recourse than letting the charges metastasize in the public consciousness. More often than not, televised hearings before legislators simply degenerate into a headline-hogging exercise, the search for truth and accountability becoming a by-product of the main goal of many media-savvy politicians, which is to lob the most clever-sounding soundbite that could make it to prime-time news. In the process, ordinary men and women invited before these so-called august legislators have found themselves harassed, bullied, berated, mocked and dismissed when they failed to hew to the prepared script.

Arroyo may not remotely qualify as an ordinary person, but like everyone else, he is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Especially in this case when the mass of papers, checks, signatures and related documentation submitted before the committee and that currently serve as evidence of his malfeasance remains admittedly circumstantial at best. Arroyo himself, however, is partly to blame for such state of things: He and his lawyers have pleaded sickness and made other dubious-sounding excuses for him to skip the hearings. Since he couldn’t be bothered to be roused into defending himself and confronting his accusers on the Senate floor, decrying the “continuing political persecution” directed against him sounds whiny at best.

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Whiny and hollow, as is his similar complaint that he was “deprived of due process” now that the case has moved to court. Arroyo should be the first to welcome the shift away from the circus-like political environment of Congress to the more deliberate, judicious sala of a judge, where he can enjoy the right to defend his person and present his counter-testimony in whatever way he and his high-priced lawyers deem fit, without the cheap posturing of politicos-turned-prosecutors marring his own day in court. It’s the right place for him to make the best case for himself, since whatever accusations that have been leveled against him must now stand exacting judicial scrutiny (assuming the court is not compromised one way or the other). His co-accused PNP officials appear to understand this; unlike Arroyo, they have welcomed the charges as a chance to exonerate themselves.

But, for this very reason as well, it now falls on the Department of Justice to ensure that the indictments filed against Arroyo, former Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, former PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa, 23 police officers and several businessmen are solid, exhaustive and convincing—will stick, in short. Whether original Arroyo accusers Archibald Po, Renato Sia and Larry de Vera should have been included in the charge sheet, given the immunity promised them by the Senate, is a matter to be resolved separately. At this point, the government’s paramount obligation is to demonstrate that it can prosecute wrongdoing successfully, and not botch the case again to the continuing detriment of law and order in this country. Should this suit fall apart, the PNP should be made to pay for its criminal sloppiness—or, worse, deceit.

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TAGS: Mike Arroyo, Philippine National Police, plunder, second-hand helicopters
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