Lady Justice is traditionally depicted as blindfolded to represent impartiality—that politics, wealth or fame do not influence the decisions of a court of law. But in the Philippines, with its sorry state of justice, the blindfold has come to mean something else—that the judicial system willfully shields its eyes from the abuse or corruption of the law.
Consider the report about a 21-year-old man who, earlier this month, was arrested for allegedly stealing a can of luncheon meat worth P199 from a convenience store in Mandaluyong City. The man was hungry and desperate, and resorted to stealing for his food. A similar story was reported last year, of a 21-year-old sales clerk arrested for filching a can of corned beef in a supermarket in Santa Ana, Manila. The price of the can of corned beef? P31.50.
Contrast that with the cases of influential, high-profile people who are seemingly able to get away with their misdeeds involving huge sums of public money. The latest is former senator Bong Revilla, who was acquitted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan. A “consuelo de bobo,” if you will, was that he was still ordered by the court to return P124.5 million to the government. But Revilla’s arrogant response? “What will I return?”
The Sandiganbayan’s wisdom and foresight were such that it managed not only to befuddle the public with a decision an Integrated Bar of the Philippines official called “illogical, laughable”; it also left out any mention of a legal mechanism to force the money out of Revilla. Will Revilla be clapped back in jail should he fail to pay up? It didn’t say. Those millions, said the Anti-Money Laundering Council, were found in Revilla’s bank accounts at about the same time his aide Richard Cambe was dealing with Janet Lim Napoles’ bogus foundations, apparently to launder the senator’s pork-barrel funds. But in Revilla’s incredible telling, he had nothing to do with the suspect money in his very own bank accounts. And the court believed him. And now Revilla is adamant about not returning anything.
That sense of brash defiance could only have been inspired by other cases of administration allies or factotums likewise acting with temerity even after having been found to have misused public funds.
Cesar Montano, former chief of the Tourism Promotions Board, was driven to resign in May this year following allegations that he released some P80 million to the scuttled “Buhay Carinderia” project before it even really started, and sans public bidding. Has the money been recovered, or Montano charged? The Palace hasn’t been heard from again about the matter, so consider all that gone with the wind.
Former tourism secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo also resigned in the wake of public uproar over P60 million in ads she had approved for placement in a show on state-run PTV-4 produced by one of her brothers. The conflict of interest was blinding—the kind of clear malfeasance the Tulfo brothers have no trouble eviscerating others for. But Ben Tulfo, mouthing movie dialogue not unlike those found in Revilla’s action movies, gave the country the finger thus: “Sa mga nagsasabing isauli ang pera at hinihintay daw ang P60 million, mamuti na mga mata niyo! Wala kaming isasauli (Those asking us to return the P60 million, we’re not returning anything even if your eyes turn white)!” And so nada until now—the national till made poorer by P60 million. But do the Tulfos think the people will forget?
Last month, Germany agreed to one-time reparations for hundreds of Jews who, as children, fled Nazi rule some 80 years ago. In October, Spain’s parliament approved the exhumation of the remains of the dictator Francisco Franco from the hallowed Valley of the Fallen mausoleum near Madrid, where thousands who died in the country’s civil war are also laid to rest. For these countries, reckoning with the mistakes and abuses of the past remains an ongoing, vital task—a way to heal, to learn, to ensure that such dark periods in their history do not happen again.
For the Philippines, the takeaway for the year about to close is the opposite: The likes of Revilla, the Tulfos, and the biggest transgressors of them all, the Marcoses—all of them remain unrepentant, and so the pursuit of justice against them is still accordingly incomplete. Absent such accounting, there can be no forgiveness, in this or any other year. “Forgiveness without truth is an empty ritual,” said the late senator Jose Diokno. “Reconciliation without justice is meaningless, and worse, an invitation to more abuses in the future.”