The bad language was a dead giveaway, betraying vacuousness, disinterest and fecklessness all in one blow. Asked why the administration had given the former governor of Palawan, Joel Reyes, and other suspects in the January 2011 murder of environmentalist and radio broadcaster Gerry Ortega until the weekend to surrender, in the face of an immediately executory warrant for their arrest issued on March 27, President Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda offered an explanation that should henceforth deserve special mention for sheer inanity: “It’s maybe out of deference for his being a former governor, and hopefully that as a government official, he will be responsible enough to face the courts and surrender voluntarily.”
There it was, the President’s “tuwid na daan” in action—the might of the government subverting a court order to accord special privileges to a friend of the powers that be. It’s bad enough that the grant of an extension for the surrender of Reyes et al. had the effect of blindsiding the warrant, rendering it defanged and invalidated—something Malacañang had no right, much less power, to do. Worse was Lacierda’s justification for it: because Reyes is “a former governor.”
Well, so what? The fact that he is does not merit him any leniency in this case; it only damns him more. Government officials are expected to be the first to uphold the law, not to make a mockery of it. Reyes’ disappearance from public view and his defiant refusal to surrender, declared in a radio statement in which he said he was hiding “not to avoid justice but to stop the accusations, charges and persecution that have no basis,” flouts, in the most basic sense, the administration of justice in this country. The rest of us have no means of hieing off to undisclosed hideouts and enjoying the protection of well-placed friends when summoned by the courts to respond to a legal challenge. Reyes, however, by virtue of his former high position in the government, gets extra lead time to make his escape—a brazen act that, by law, already indicates guilt, but here aided and abetted by the President’s spokesperson, no less.
The outrageousness has not stopped there. Malacañang has said it would offer a reward for Reyes’ capture—but only if the authorities fail to apprehend him immediately. “It has happened in the past when the initial efforts failed to effect the arrest,” said deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte, in another one of those hollow verbal contortions that feign to explain, but only end up exposing, Malacañang’s tendency to fudge and waffle, to shirk responsibility in the fundamental task of haling criminal suspects—especially high-profile ones—before the courts and making them answer for their purported crimes.
And while we’re at it, we are directing Malacañang’s attention to the fact that it’s been three months now since Jovito Palparan was last seen, and still the warrant of arrest brought against him for the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of two (now disappeared) University of the Philippines student activists remains unserved. Who but the most naive does not believe that the retired major general dubbed “The Butcher” by human rights groups is able to elude capture because he has powerful, influential friends—most logically in the military—on whom he banks for protection and succor? That he remains at large is one of the Aquino administration’s gravest shortcomings so far. Now, with Reyes aping Palparan’s example and becoming another star fugitive, the government should be sufficiently bothered to work double time on their apprehension.
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