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With Due Respect

Filing cases not enough

To mollify public outcry against the fatal shooting of retired Army Cpl. Winston Ragos, the Quezon City Police filed a homicide case against one of their own, MSgt. Daniel Florendo Jr. Indeed, the case disappeared from the public radar there-after. However, while filing a criminal case is a good beginning, it is not enough.

Persistent and diligent follow-up is indispensable. To begin with, after reading my May 3 column, readers asked why the police filed only a homicide charge, not the nonbailable crime of murder. Was it not obvious from the video clips that the killing was attended by qualifying circumstances?

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Hopefully, this question would be answered by the prosecutors after conducting the preliminary investigation. They are granted by law the discretion to file the appropriate information (or charge sheet) that truly reflects the evidence. Nonetheless, to quote a favorite saying we learned in grade school, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” It is also the price of speedy justice.

Under our criminal justice system, private lawyers are allowed to represent the victims or their heirs during preliminary investigations. But, once the cases are filed in court, the government prosecutors of the Department of Justice or of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) assume primary responsibility. Private prosecutors may help, subject to the control of the prosecutors and only to the extent of the civil damages suffered by the complainants.

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The “vigilance” I speak of begins with the filing in court of the properly-worded information. When the wording is faulty, as when it fails to include all the elements of the crime, the court could dismiss the case at sight or at any stage of the proceedings.

A publicly-known example is the acquittal of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the main ground that the information for plunder filed by the OMB failed to allege “the identity of the main plunderer” which, according to the Supreme Court, is an essential element of the offense. Ironically, she was cleared after the prosecution had already finished presenting its evidence and before she could begin her defense (See my 12/3/17 column).

Another example. Former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima and former director of the PNP Special Action Force Getulio Napeñas — the accused in the infamous “Mamasapano Massacre” — were acquitted because the information filed by the OMB charging a violation of the Anti-Graft Law “failed to allege a crime”; it did not state that the accused received, or at least expected to receive, “any material remuneration or consideration” for performing the prohibited acts” (See 2/2/20 column).

On another ground, I wrote on Nov. 24, 2019 about the dismissal of three ill-gotten wealth cases filed against former president Ferdinand Marcos, his wife, and their alleged cronies for the prosecution’s utter failure to authenticate the documentary evidence during the trial.

Eternal vigilance is needed to avoid disgusting delays. Though the Supreme Court — in a resolution dated March 18, 2014 — directed trial courts “to terminate regular trial[s] within 180 days, and trial[s] by judicial affidavits within 60 days,” the Rules of Court and the Speedy Trial Act of 1998 recognized too many exceptions such that too many trials pend for decades (See 7/13/14 column).

Worse, in another edict dated Jan. 8, 2013, the Court rued about clogged judicial dockets, lamenting “that 80% of the backlog in the first and second level courts involves criminal cases, and that delays in those cases are caused mainly by lack of prosecutors, absence of prosecution witnesses, and lack of PAO [Public Attorneys’ Office] lawyers…” An earlier resolution, dated Sept. 4, 2012, observed that “about 40% of criminal cases are dismissed annually” because the complainants “simply g[a]ve up coming to court after repeated postponements” (See 2/3/13 column).

So, also, for the utter failure to prosecute within a reasonable period, numerous cases have been lost for violating the right to speedy trial of the accused.

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Finally, after many years of vigilance and after victory had already been won with finality in several graft cases, the adjudged civil liability remained uncollected. I even called on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) to help in closing these cases (See 4/12/20 column). However, I have yet to hear from the IBP.

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