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Uneven scales of justice

/ 05:08 AM June 17, 2022

Now that the SUV driver has surrendered almost two weeks after ramming and running over a security guard manning traffic in Mandaluyong, he faces—not a possible arrest, as earlier announced by the police for charges of frustrated murder and abandonment of victim, but his “day in court.”

“He will have his day in court (because the case) will undergo preliminary investigation … and if the fiscal finds probable cause, then a case will be filed,” acting police chief Lt. Col. Vicente Danao Jr. told media in a press conference called by the driver’s family in Camp Crame on Wednesday. Jose Antonio Sanvicente can no longer be subjected to inquest proceedings as the period for this has already lapsed, Danao added.

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Fine; it’s all part of due process that the errant driver is entitled to, as everyone else is. Questions, however, remain on why it took Sanvicente all this time to present himself to authorities, ignoring the summons of police who sought him out shortly after the dash cam video of that June 5 incident went viral. Why snub as well the two Land Transportation Office (LTO) hearings on the case? Was his surrender prompted by the LTO’s revocation of his driver’s license, the threat of arrest, and the justice department’s order of an immigration lookout bulletin on him?

Such careful adherence to the letter of the law in Sanvicente’s case contrasts sharply with the violent arrest on June 9 of the 91 farmers, students, artists, land reform advocates, and campus journalists who were charged with malicious mischief and illegal assembly for allegedly destroying the sugarcane crops of a multipurpose cooperative at Hacienda Tinang in Concepcion, Tarlac. They were doing “cooperative planting” (bungkalan) on land already awarded them in 1995, the farmers insisted, adding that they already have a collective certificate of land ownership award (CCLOA), and have been waiting for almost three decades now for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to issue their individual CLOA.

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Despite the fact that only DAR has jurisdiction over cases involving land under agrarian reform, the police carted off the group, with bail set at P39,000 each. The bail was later reduced, and the group was released in batches after spending two to three nights in jail. Still, supporters have asked: the supposed injured party—the cooperative—had claimed only P200,000 in damages; why should the total bail be P1.2 million?

Elsewhere across the country in the past six years, drug suspects get no advance notice of arrest, unlike Sanvicente, and are summarily executed in their homes as part of the government’s war on drugs. And while the SUV driver was assured of his “day in court,” activists, rights workers, and lawyers are often Red-tagged, ambushed, and shot dead by arresting officers who claim they had resisted arrest and shot it out with the police.

Earlier this month, brothers Rodolfo “Jun” and Orlando Lozada presented themselves to the National Bureau of Investigation after the high court affirmed their graft conviction over a deal involving state-owned forest land. The two are due for transfer to the national penitentiary soon to serve up to 10 years in prison. In 2007, the IT expert exposed the anomalous broadband network deal between the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the Chinese company ZTE Corp. Although Lozada’s testimony of supposed cost-padding and corruption scuttled the deal and led to the filing of graft charges against Arroyo and several officials, the case and the charges were ultimately dismissed in 2016. The whistleblower, however, ended up being charged and convicted of graft, albeit for a different and less serious offense.

Meanwhile, former first lady Imelda Marcos, convicted of seven counts of graft in 2018, has yet to spend a day behind bars.

As detained former senator Leila de Lima so aptly put it, we have “a broken criminal justice system.” She would know. The former chair of the Commission on Human Rights, who had censured then Davao mayor and now outgoing President Duterte for his possible role in the extrajudicial killings in his city, has been detained since 2017 on what are widely believed to be trumped-up drug charges. Although several witnesses have recanted their testimonies against De Lima, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra this week said they would still pursue the charges against her.

Consider as well the contrast in the treatment of detainees, depending on their political ties. While De Lima has been denied any means of electronic communication from her cell and barred from media interviews, retired Army general Jovito Palparan—convicted of kidnapping and serious illegal detention over the 2006 enforced disappearance of two student activists—was allowed a two-hour interview on the media network owned by Duterte ally and controversial pastor Apollo Quiboloy.

Given such disparate manner in which the law is applied in this country, one wonders if the blindfold on that stoic lady standing in front of our Supreme Court has somehow slipped. That might explain why justice in these parts is often doled out selectively, depending on one’s stature, influence, and connections.

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TAGS: crime, justice
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