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Murder with impunity

/ 12:09 AM November 27, 2014

A man was murdered recently; “I see no other reason why [he] would be ambushed aside from [his] desire to become a state witness,” said Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.

The man, Dennis Sakal, was a key witness in one of the worst massacres in Philippine history, done five years and four days ago. Fifty-eight people were mowed down ruthlessly, cold-bloodedly, for no other reason than someone wanted political power. And now the witnesses are disappearing one by one, with no one caught for murdering them. And no one cares. Lack of action, not soothing words, proves that.

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I wasn’t going to write about this because so many columnists had already done so—until I realized that’s exactly what I should do: add my voice to the disgust over the incredible disregard this government and its judicial system have given this atrocity in Philippine history.

Five years and no progress. There is no excuse. I don’t care how many details, how many boxes of evidence; the nonaction is not acceptable. And why the voluminous mounds of documents? The deed is known, the victims have been identified, the crime scene investigated, the murder weapons impounded, the motive clear to any one with even an iota of logical capability. The case is simple, the perpetrators known. It’s an open-and-shut case.

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If a South Korean court can determine guilt and issue judgment on a case no less difficult than the Maguindanao massacre, why can’t Philippine courts do the same? I think the Chief Justice should reorganize the courts so that this trial is over before President Aquino steps down. And Mr. Aquino should actively see to it that this is over by then, or at least the conviction and jailing—forever—of the masterminds.

The Supreme Court has assigned one judge full time as though that’s a momentous thing to do. One judge! For 197 accused! What’s wrong with 10 judges, or, at the very, very least, one judge for the Ampatuan family alone, and one or two, or nine others, for everyone else? And to say it’s a continuing trial is laughable. Their definition is two days a week. Two days! I work seven days a week, so can the judge (well, I’ll allow Sunday off). And transcription can be done overnight. If one million young people can work in call centers through the night, so can a few transcribers.

Five witnesses have been killed—isn’t that irrefutable proof that those charged are guilty, guilty as hell? Where they’ll all eventually end up. Why kill if you’re innocent and can prove it? Yet after five years, lawyers are still arguing mindless details. It’s disgusting, it’s criminal disregard for societal norms and decency.

How do these lawyers live with their conscience (granted they have one)? Are they God-fearing Christians? How will they answer to their God when they meet Him? As far as I’m concerned, they are accessories to murder, and should be thus charged. Have the law schools so failed in their teaching that legal “technicalities” can override concern for human life? It’s time they stuck to just arguing the facts, swiftly.

Eighteen years to convict the Ozone Disco management and some Quezon City personnel and 28 years to not put Imelda in jail. This isn’t a dysfunctional court system, it’s a court system in total collapse, and in need of radical reformation.

No one is in jail, let alone convicted, according to this newspaper in its editorial, for masterminding the murder of 145 journalists since 1986, 25 of them under this administration. What an indictment of a government’s police and prosecutorial arms, and what a shameful disgrace for a judiciary.

If anyone would like to kill me, go ahead, you won’t get caught.

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There are riots in Mexico over the senseless, dreadful murder of 43 young people. There is no reaction over 58 deaths in the Philippines, or the killing of 145 journalists, or “only 130” election-related deaths in 2010. How sad. Is Filipino life so cheap?

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has promised reform, and obviously wants to achieve it. She recognizes the failure within the system. We should help her, and we in the business community are going to. We’ve formed an organization in which most business chambers are involved, called the Judicial Reform Initiative. We wish to help on the business, economic side. I call on other sectors of society to do the same, and for CJ Sereno to call us all together for a weekend retreat to dig deep, very deep, into the system and how it must be restructured. I would like to moderate it because it needs someone who’ll take no nonsense, forego diplomacy and politeness, and just get results.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” says it all.

* * *

We went to the Sergio Mendez concert at the Araneta Coliseum. He was wonderful, but I almost walked out. The so-called new, comfortable seating must have been designed for a different bottom. And I was horrified that they inundated us with 15 minutes of ads.

In the past 50 years I’ve been to concerts all over the world, and never had a concert been so disruptive. Art should not be distracted by ads. It will take one hell of an entertainer to get me back there again. Thank heaven Mendez was the star he’s always been.

* * *

I’ve had the occasional comment that I’m too often critical of the government. But that is a columnist’s role: to criticize in order to draw attention to weaknesses, so they can be addressed and fixed. Where possible, I offer my suggestions for what can be done. The government has more than enough people to crow about its achievements.

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