‘Clear proof’ for the favored
Could it be? Were one’s ears hearing President Duterte right? There he was on Sunday night, making a strong, unequivocal pitch for an idea that he had often talked about in ways more disdainful than encouraging: human rights, or at least one human right in particular — the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“Kung ’yung mga kriminal may presumption of innocence… I have to follow procedural due process and allow him to answer. It’s given to kidnappers, it should be given to him.”
“Him” referred to Philippine National Police chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde, now entangled in controversy over renewed accusations that he had protected policemen who were suspected of “recycling” illegal drugs in 2013.
Responding to calls that Albayalde resign or be fired, Mr. Duterte was clear he needed more grounds for even entertaining the idea of letting his top cop go than mere allegations of wrongdoing: “Give me clear proof that he was there on the trafficking of drugs. Just because he was the…tapos may tinawagan siya” — the latter point referencing the phone call Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency director general Aaron Aquino said Albayalde made to him, to intercede on the accused policemen’s behalf and specifically ask that the investigation into their conduct be scuttled.
Albayalde denies this charge, and, despite Aquino’s sworn testimony before the Senate, the President appears inclined to side with Albayalde, or at least give him the benefit of the doubt to the fullest extent possible: “I could not just do it in knee-jerk… I cannot adopt the investigation of Congress as the work of the executive department. Kailangan ko na i-review ’yan, tapos kung tama lahat e i-adopt ko.”
Fair enough. Albayalde is, no question, entitled to the presumption of innocence, a fundamental human right that serves as the bedrock of our justice system and rule of law. No person may be deprived of liberty until his guilt has been proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law, the necessary corollary to this rule being that the burden of proof rests with the accuser.
The Constitution enshrines this right, as does the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the American nonprofit Institute for Justice put it in a brief, quoting a US Supreme Court decision: “This principle — that all individuals are presumed innocent until validly convicted in a court of law — is ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,’ such that ‘neither liberty nor justice would exist if [it was] sacrificed.’”
Mr. Duterte is no doubt on solid ground when he invokes the principle in defense of his embattled police chief.
Alas, but what sticks in the craw, what seems hugely amiss in the President’s robust appeal to due process on Albayalde’s behalf is this: Now he’s recognizing the necessity for basic human rights, where previously, on far too many occasions, he has dismissed them as unnecessary bleeding-heart complications in his unforgiving war on drugs (in his specious formulation in his 2018 State of the Nation Address: “Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives”), and has even threatened to kill human rights advocates (“If they are obstructing justice, you shoot them,” he said in August 2017. “Para makita talaga kung anong klaseng human right”).
How privileged is Albayalde, then, to be defended by the President on the basis of this newfound respect for due process — the same due process Mr. Duterte would otherwise speak about only in the most contemptuous manner, and completely disregard when it comes to according other Filipinos not as favored as Albayalde the same basic presumption of innocence.
The broad swath of opposition figures, activists, journalists and conscientious citizens targeted by the error-riddled “matrix” Malacañang has released, for instance. The lowly government officials Mr. Duterte has flailed publicly and fired for alleged corruption, absent any formal prosecution to allow them to clear their names in court. And, not least, the thousands of mostly impoverished Filipinos who have died in the hands of the police force led by Albayalde, unable to defend themselves from the summary — and lethal — accusation of involvement in illegal drugs.
As a mother of a slain “tokhang” victim lamented: “Only those in slippers are killed.”
Albayalde should count himself lucky he is much higher up in the pecking order, is shod in comfy shoes, and has no less than the President — blissfully oblivious to his administration’s glaring double standards — suddenly rediscovering the value of those pesky human rights to save his police chief’s ass.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.