Anatomy of public outrage
Public outrage over the aborted release of Antonio Sanchez under the good conduct and time allowance (GCTA) law has been instantaneous because it was pre-primed by the convergence of the independent simmering controversies surrounding Sanchez, Salvador Panelo, Nicanor Faeldon and Ronald dela Rosa. The aborted release of Sanchez blended these controversies into an explosive mixture.
It does not help that the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) has been thoroughly discredited over the past several years. All the media coverage of continuing raids, gangs, riots, drugs, “kubol,” contraband, sex visits, weapons, cell phones and musical chair changes in leadership paint a picture of anarchy.
The “tanim kaso” (case fabrication) that Senate President Tito Sotto revealed extends the GCTA-for-sale scheme to the extreme. Money is extorted from convicts due for release so fabricated additional cases are junked. Sotto has just refocused on what might be considered the grandest “tanim kaso” case brewed in the NBP, the Leila de Lima case. This case now suggests a significance to the transfer of high-profile drug convicts — “lipat preso” — most of them witnesses against De Lima, out of the NBP to the custody of the Philippine Marines.
A vigilant justice-attentive media, spearheaded by Deo Macalma of dzRH, whose call to Faeldon on Aug. 20 jolted the then Bureau of Corrections chief to the impending disaster he was about to unleash. The news quickly spread. The key players during the crisis were caught flat-footed. Faeldon was forced to retract his release order and clumsily cover his tracks by creating the fiction of the difference between a release memorandum and a release order, which his subordinates tell us does not exist. Justice Menardo Guevarra, also on Aug. 20, said Sanchez was among those to be released. In the Senate hearing on the matter, Faeldon and Guevarra appeared to outdo each other in showing tentativeness over the role of their respective organizations in the GCTA law and the Sanchez case.
The weak defense against a vigorous mainstream and social media onslaught unnerved even the sympathizers of the administration. They generally fell silent, while many of the fringe supporters joined the public outrage over the release of Sanchez.
The Senate joint investigation on the GCTA was, like most blue ribbon investigations, not kind to the administration. It attained a life of its own. The sense of competition among the senators to show their mettle squeezed facts, insights and new queries from the hearings. There is also the new dynamic where, because of the Duterte Senate in-house defense team, senators are inspired to differentiate themselves from the trio, show relative autonomy and play to the gallery. The life of any administration is in danger when Senate investigations are in session.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, for his part, after denying recent contacts with the Sanchez family, has taken the defensive strategy of taking the offensive, threatening to file charges against Inquirer.net and Rappler for reporting that he has endorsed executive clemency for Sanchez. If his idea is to repair his public image, the continuing controversy over the GCTA and the recall of the released prisoners do not appear to be a sympathetic venue for such offensive tactics.
Efforts to demonize Republic Act No. 10592 in support of the reimposition of the death penalty will not fly. All the more people will suspect the poor capacity of the justice and penal systems to correctly compute GCTAs will similarly lead to erroneous death penalty verdicts.
If the turbulent currents of public opinion make Filipino society look so wobbly today, it is because institutions are being forced to exaggerate their actions, in order to compensate for serious aberrations in the workings of the system. The aberrations continue to give the public anxiety because President Duterte now tells us he believes Faeldon is a “good man.” It is as if he is saying he is not done with Faeldon yet.
From a larger perspective, it is the freedom of expression that has kept the people’s faith that this country remains a democratic country. Freedom of expression enables the timely emergence of public outrage, the ultimate safeguard against adhocratic authoritarianism.
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