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Two fast convictions

/ 04:03 AM September 20, 2021

I teared up when I first read it — the conviction of policeman killer Jonel Nuezca for the murder of two persons, a mother and her son, in cold blood in December 2020. The crime, which occurred in broad daylight with a slew of witnesses present, was captured on video. It took a total of only eight months for the judgment of reclusion perpetua to be promulgated in August 2021.

The second instance of justice was the conviction of two deputy Bureau of Immigration commissioners, Al Argosino and Michael Robles, for plunder for receiving a bribe of P50 million. They were sentenced to reclusion perpetua after legal proceedings of less than four years, from the time of the extortion in November 2016 to the decision by the Sandiganbayan in June 2021.

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With our perennially slowpoke, costly, and partial justice system, these two convictions give hope and inspiration that the system can still adjudge guilt and innocence within a reasonable period. That these happened during the pandemic, when the bureaucracy is even slower, is truly cause to celebrate and reason to be proud of people in the judiciary.

However, it’s also true that Nuezca was readily found guilty because of his own brazenness. Impunity leads to recklessness and violence. It did not matter to this policeman that there were many people around, including his family, and not a few were taking photos and videos of his confrontation with the eventual victims. The testimonies of the witnesses and the viral circulation of the electronic evidence became the grounds for the swift conviction. The video also served as protection against any attempt to whitewash or delay his case.

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Because of the public anger, Nuezca was quickly booted out of the PNP and was already an ex-cop for the duration of the trial, with minimal influence on the proceedings. He was neither a high-ranking figure nor part of a powerful syndicate. The institutional shame compelled his fellow police officers to act duly, and the overwhelming public outrage impelled the prosecutors and defense lawyers to proceed with dispatch.

Nuezca was to serve as the example and the exhibit for the fight against criminality within the ranks of the police. Yet hundreds of police killings and cases of brutality and thievery go unpunished. For those that get entangled in the criminal justice system, the outcome over time is only of dismissal. Victims in the dark who are isolated and abused, with no means to gather evidence or witnesses, no videos or photos, and no public support, remain victims till the end.

In the case of Argosino and Robles, what is particularly evil about their case is that the two deputy commissioners were barely a few months into their appointment at the Bureau of Immigration of the Department of Justice. They were handpicked lawyers from the President’s fraternity to lead an agency at the front lines of our borders tasked to keep the country safe from undesirable aliens. But the two ended up extorting from foreigners and got caught red-handed by casino cameras upon the complaint of a conspirator.

Reading the Sandiganbayan’s decision raises three questions:

One, were the two acting for themselves, or as bagmen and necessary fall guys for the masterminds? Two, why was the immigration intelligence officer dismissed a few days after his successful entrapment operation? Three, will there be pardon for the two convicts in the coming months?

Argosino and Robles are members of the bar, of high rank in the bureaucracy. They were quickly let go after the criminal incident and got themselves well-connected defense lawyers. But the evidence was too overwhelming. The impunity of demanding and receiving P50 million pesos is fuel for the public’s indignation.

These two convictions came out fast because they were both crimes of maximum impunity—savage murder and shameless shakedown. Both cases contained the basis and justification for the findings against the principals, and both were non-bailable offenses with the accused in detention. The longer their cases were delayed, the longer they languished in their prison cells.

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Sincere congratulations to those who made the criminal justice work in these two cases, and prayers for the victims and their families. But these two swift convictions are the exceptions to the rule in a system that is beholden to the powerful, that favors the rich, and that insulates the famous.

We will take any measure of victory for justice. However, the reckoning of the true state of our administration of justice lies in all the unsolved crimes, the pending cases that continue to rot, and the guilty who are never judged.

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Geronimo L. Sy is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Justice.

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TAGS: Al Argonsino, double-murder case, extortion, Jonel Nuezca, killer cop, Michael Robles, mother-and-son killing
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