How democracies die
For seven years, the Maguindanao massacre trials have been plodding along ever so slowly such that death had sooner claimed one principal accused. Benchbooks of tactics by the defense and their allies have resulted in long intervals and delays. At the losing end are the victims of this horrific, heinous crime—agonizing families, an exasperated defense and, in general, a jaded public.
The lack of significant development in the case, compounded by the disappearance and murder of witnesses, builds disillusion; more so because despite the swift determination of the ultimate facts, it is taking so long to punish. The alleged masterminds of the massacre are back in power and, evidently, richer and stronger than ever before; whichever way the decision turns up, the Ampatuans seem poised to take it to their advantage.
The sorry state of impunity in the country is exacerbated by the recent hero’s burial of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos who, like the Ampatuans, is rising from the ashes of ignominy. Something dastardly wrong happened on Nov. 23, 2009; so many, and much more, worse things happened during martial law. Historical evidence points to the perpetrators with clarity. But with none coming forth to apologize or made liable, or at least acknowledging, the victims are left to commiserate among themselves.
Conviction by a criminal court for human rights violations in the Philippines has been elusive not because of the lack of laws, but because of sophistry and misuse of the legal for narrow political interests. This underscores what the poor and powerless have always believed but hoped against: that the law and the courts will not give them justice. This, in turn, breeds the underlying sentiment in impunity: contempt and cynicism for law and order.
When the people have lost faith in their government, they refuse to follow rules. Or when they blindly follow, then the strong succeeds. When the leaders have become so wrapped up in their grand delusions, they can present a different truth. When somewhere in the cacophony of online and offline space, the people become too small to stand up, too weak or scared to speak up; when evil persists, and yet righteous cries for justice are drowned in paranoia and propaganda—this is how democracy dies. Sometimes with the fading whisper of forgotten memories, sometimes with thunderous applause.
RACHEL F. PASTORES, managing counsel, Public Interest Law Center
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