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There’s The Rub

Essence of justice

Ex-Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes says he won’t surrender. That’s what he told a radio station in Puerto Princesa through a recorded message from his hideout. He is not hiding “to run away from justice but to avoid the persecution, ridicule and accusations that are being thrown at me without basis.” He says he will answer the accusations against him “at the right time.”

Now let’s see. He had motive, he had opportunity, he had means. Gerry Ortega had been a thorn on his side, an environmentalist who had depicted him as the protector of mining interests in Palawan. Ortega had left word before he died that if something should happen to him, the authorities should look no further than him (Reyes). Reyes’ own bodyguard, who confessed to organizing the hit, pointed to him as the mastermind.

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That is not a basis for hounding him to the ends of the earth for the death of someone whose life was vastly more valuable than his? That is not a basis for ordering him—and his brother who is his coaccused in the crime—to be shot on sight if he refuses to surrender and answer for his deed?

I’m glad the law in the form of Judge Angelo Arizala of Puerto Princesa has finally shown the long reach it is presumed to have and has touched Reyes. About time it did. Though why it took so long when all the evidence of guilt pointed to him from the start only the investigators can say. And they ought to be made to say: The Department of the Interior and Local Government should investigate as well the investigators who stood in the way of the investigation.

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Reyes says he is just biding his time to answer the accusations against him at the right time. That’s the same line Renato Corona has pitched to us, saying he will reveal his true assets, including his dollar accounts—relax lang Mr. President, he said, the revelation will be there—in due time.

What idiocy. What arrogance. The right time to answer a charge of tax evasion is today, not tomorrow. The due time to answer a charge of murder is today, not tomorrow. Or indeed yesterday, when the crime happened, when the accusation was made. In any case, the right party to say when you may reveal your true assets is the Bureau of Internal Revenue, not you. In any case, the due party to say when you may surrender yourself for murder is the court that has called for your arrest, not you.

It’s all part of the culture of impunity, which was what spawned Ortega’s murder in the first place, a culture Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unleashed in her time and which has spilled over to this time like an intransigent virulence.

It’s the culture that says you can get rid of pretty much anybody you please so long as you’re protected by Gloria, so long as you’re protected by power, the assassins will never be found out, the masterminds will never be touched. It’s the culture that says you can always determine how the investigation will go, if it takes place at all, what evidence it may admit, what judgments it may weigh, so long as you’re protected by power, so long as you’re protected by your position, the evidence can always be buried, the evidence can always point in another direction. It’s the culture that says you can always decree, when things go very wrong, or not as you expected, when you may turn yourself in, when you may answer the charges against you, which is when you see fit, which is when you deem it the due time.

What arrogance. What idiocy. Arguably Reyes’ downfall owed in great part to the fact that he made some very powerful enemies. Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, friend of Ortega and scourge of mining in Palawan, is one of them. Gina Lopez, friend of Ortega and scourge of mining in the country, is another of them. But as well, you do get to have sense that the culture of impunity is being pushed back little by little, step by step. You do get to be hopeful as well that with a chief justice being impeached and a former governor being hunted down for murder, the wheels of justice are starting to grind, albeit still groaning from the weight of desuetude.

Now, if government will only catch the fugitives. Reyes is not the first one to go into hiding, another went that way before him and remains at large. His name is Jovito Palparan. Bagging them will strike an even bigger blow against the culture of impunity. Bagging them will prove that where there is a crime, there is punishment.

Which is the essence of justice.

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* * *

True enough, the BIR might have treaded a little less heavily on Manny Pacquiao. But true enough as well, as Kim Henares has pointed out, it’s Pacquiao himself who blew up the issue by crying persecution before the world. And even truer enough, it’s his supporters in the Senate and elsewhere who made it worse by saying the BIR is disrespecting him by even thinking to question his tax forms amid his enormous contributions to the country.

Why shouldn’t Pacquiao be an object of a tax investigation? Why should having contributed to the honor of the country exempt one from having to obey traffic rules, respect laws, and pay taxes? Elsewhere in the world, they jail heavyweight champions for various transgressions. Elsewhere in the world, they prosecute the head of the IMF for sexual harassment.

Every time crime gets worse in this country, legislators and anticrime crusaders howl their heads off about the need for the death penalty. Which is what we’ve been hearing again of late. In fact, what deters crime is not the severity of the punishment, it is the inevitability of being caught. It is the regular, routine, reflexive demonstration of the principle that where there is a crime, there is punishment. However insignificant or weighty the crime. However high or low the transgressor. That’s the core of the penal code.

That’s the essence of justice.

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TAGS: BIR, featured column, fugitives, Gerry Ortega, joel reyes, Jovito Palparan, justice, many pacquiao, opinion
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