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Head-spinning judicial decisions

Decisions, decisions. Judicial, that is. The news has been full of them lately. There is the one concerning Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s amnesty that reeks of either the I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-the-facts-I’m-the-judge-so-suck-it-up-buster mentality, or the-President’s-wish-is-my-command (he can make or break me) mentality, or some combination of both. In any case, it is an indication of how low the judiciary can sink in this country.

Only consider the irony of it, Reader.  Two judges, who are practically next door to each other—one is Makati RTC Branch 148 and the other Makati RTC Branch 150—and faced with the same evidence, ended up with diametrically opposite rulings. Judge Andres Soriano (148) ruled that Trillanes filed his application form and admitted his guilt (the admission is part of the application form) with regard to the Oakwood mutiny of 2003. Judge Elmo Alameda (150) ruled the opposite: Trillanes did NOT file an Official Amnesty Application Form, and did not admit his guilt with regard to the Manila Peninsula siege in 2007.

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Now my confession: I have not read a copy of the decision, I am only depending on the news media (my excuse:  the Alameda decision came out within this week). And what they report is that Alameda ruled that “Sen. Trillanes bears the burden of proving that he indeed filed his application for amnesty and admitted his guilt rather than the prosecution proving that he did not apply for amnesty and did not admit his guilt.”

Well, that has my head spinning. I always thought that it is the prosecution who has the burden of proving that a person is guilty, with only one exception, as far as the Philippines is concerned: When the accused is a government employee, and the case is unexplained wealth. There, the law is specific—the government employee has the burden of proof.

But let us not go astray: How can two judges, faced with the same evidence, be completely different in the appreciation of such evidence? But apparently it happens all the time—except that  when it happens, the person who always gets the short end of the stick seems to the one less powerful, or the one with less resources. And the powerful, richer person gets by on really nitpicking technicalities. That is how I see it.

Then there is the decision concerning the RCBC former branch manager, Maia Deguito, who was convicted of violating the Anti-Money Laundering Act on eight counts, with each count carrying a jail sentence of four to seven years. Which means 32 to 56 years in total.

I cannot resist pointing out that Cesar Untalan, the RTC judge who rendered the decision, presides over Makati RTC Branch 149, which is in between Alameda and Soriano.  More important is that, aside from the speed with which the case was decided (it was brought up sometime in 2016, thus fast by the usual standard), Deguito happens to be the low (wo)man on the totem pole relative to the other six RCBC officials charged with the same crime.

When I was reading about it, the image of a lowly mayor or a postal worker found guilty of  maybe P17,000 worth of graft or even P150,000, and thrown the book, such as 30 years in jail, came to mind. It seems they convict the little ones very fast, and the big ones get away.

In this connection, another recent news was of Elenita Binay seeking the dismissal of corruption charges against her involving the Ospital ng Makati. I have no doubt that she will get what she wants—the rich and powerful on technicalities, etc. But I would like to point out that the evidence against her was gathered by a state auditor named Heidi Mendoza—does anybody remember her?—who is now an undersecretary general of the UN Internal Oversight Services. She caught the eye of then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon because of her very careful and thorough work.

And what about former senator Bong Revilla, who was acquitted while his chief of staff was convicted? And he is running for senator again—and looks like he has a great chance of winning.

Something is wrong with our judicial system. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t know what to do about it. Any suggestions?

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TAGS: column, judicial, judiciary, opinion, Trillanes
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