Friday, August 26, 2011

Nadouble Jeopardy Na Ba Tayo Ni General Garcia...and Some Such Questions

It has been joked about that cases against erring government officials are like the lyrics of the song “Mona Lisa” because cases have been brought to justice’s doorstep but “they just lie there and they die there”. Our lawyers are very adept at prolonging the judicial processes of cases that seem patently indefensible and desperately irredeemable. The situation works out well for both client and lawyer as the freedom of the client is temporarily enjoyed prior to judgment of the case (which goes on for long indefinite periods) and the lawyer’s fees continue for as long as the case is still unresolved. If we were to take seriously the aphorism “justice delayed is justice denied” then the situation in our judicial system could be deemed chronic if not criminal. A new addition to the rogues’ gallery is the medical practitioners who certify illnesses of their clients to avoid having to appear in investigations and litigations. These doctors also help their clients enjoy hospital arrest and detention privileges. A lot of money is needed for such recourses but the costs are measly compared to the available and mostly ill gotten resources. These delays of justice are not only seen in graft and corruption cases, it is so much in play even in criminal cases and corporate cases. It seems that justice favours only those who have the wherewithal to put together a battery of super lawyers to forestall progress of cases or even quash them by legal legerdemain. The instances where swift justice is achieved, though unjust, are through the quick disposal of cases that have been assigned to free legal assistance coming from assigned lawyers whose practice have not gone much beyond stamping dry seals on documents for notarization. To the courts it is not so much the dutiful meting out of justice but more a relief to be rid of a “tiresomeness” from the burgeoning stacks of cases awaiting their attention. How many prisoners have wasted their lives in incarceration because of the ineptness of the legal assistance provided for them? In contrast how many fat cats have evaded prison sentences due to delays in the judicial process, or worse, going scot free because of a technicality arising from the bungling of the prosecution panel or through a collusion between them and the defence lawyers? Our justice system has a chequered track record and is cursed by anyone who would have the unfortunate experience of dealing with it.

There is so much distrust on the Justice System from the public. We have a Supreme Court that has been held suspect by virtue of political appointments made worst by the midnight appointments made by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which include no other than the Chief Justice. It may well be that this assortment is made up capable and  honourable men and women but have had their reputations tarnished by the mere fact that they were appointees of a president whose motives seemed obvious and that is to evade graft charges upon her stepping down from power. Some may feel that they owe Madam Gloria a debt of gratitude for their appointment but being beholden for a favour done has its limits and should not be at the expense of dignity and integrity expected of the posts they now occupy. They should realize that the material gain they derived from their appointment is just a pittance compared to what has been stashed away by the Madam Gloria and her family; crumbs for dogs who grovel underneath the banquet tables of the Arroyos. They should not feel obligated to defend the corruption of their benefactress. A pact with the devil is void ab initio since it is based on bad faith. If only our justices would have an iota of feel and empathy for what Pnoy is trying to achieve during his term of office then it should pique them to do what is right and honourable and help for the sake of people and country to stop our slide to utter degradation and ignominy as the good Reverend James Reuter cautioned. 

Pnoy’s efforts towards the eradication of corruption are being stymied by these delays in the justice system. Our people have been aching to see successful prosecutions of the big and small perpetrators of the looting of the country’s coffers. What we are seeing are the piling up of unresolved cases pending resolutions at various stages of the prosecutorial process. For how long would the awareness of these high profile pillage stay as top of mind with us? Filipinos are notoriously known to have short attention spans and soon, through passage of time and other distractions, their indignation and interest on these cases dissipates. Is General Carlos Garcia off the hook following the double jeopardy principle, and what about the collusion at the Ombudsman office that precipitated it? What about the case of General and Mrs. Ligot? Is the money supposedly illegally amassed by Angelo Reyes stays with the family? Are the going away presents of outgoing Chiefs of Staff true? What happens to the Bubby Dacer case now that the principal accused is in a catbird seat? The ZTE scandal, the Amari deal, the case of the vanished Bentain, the Raven helicopters, the Maguindanao Incident, the anomalies in the Ombudsman’s office, the possible collusion of the Sandiganbayan judges, the coffee stains in PAGCOR and easily a hundred more unresolved cases that the public would want to know the status of.

For as long as these cases stay in limbo we will never get the support of the people no matter how inspiring the objectives are of Pnoy’s administration. The eradication of corruption mission of the present administration will just be farcical and la la land fantasy. Our children will continue to admire the wiliness of the wrongdoers in their midst as the corrupt continue to enjoy the fruits of their evil enterprise and flaunting their being above the law. The morass that we are in grows deeper and slimier; an insidious legacy that we pass on to the next generation. The evil that caused it continue to flourish in a slow and faithless justice system.

It is true that the problem is not easily unravelled in a democratic society such as ours. There are due processes observed and political exigencies involved. Other factors such as cultural conventions and socio-religious views that sometimes are counter- productive but, nevertheless, have to be respected and given deference. We find ourselves, as in numerous times in the past, confronted by seemingly insurmountable difficulties and are paralyzed into inaction. How easy it is to just ignore a perennial problem with a fatalistic shrug and wish for divine succour as we sit defeated at the galley of a sinking ship. Our present problems do not kill us but neither do they make us stronger. Having lived through them all these years have made us inured and indifferent. We give little thought that all these will lead our society to a devastated state, an inheritance of desolation for our children and our children’s children.

There are no silver bullets for the awesome problems confronting us. A solution has to be eked out earning little gains at a time as in building blocks towards the putting up of a stable edifice that would represent positive change. Our people may not have the patience for the slow grind of change because they easily forget and with it the loss of indignation and interest. We need something to remind them of the score of all these high profile cases and be appraised of their status on an almost daily basis. As an example they may want to know what is happening to the case of General and Mrs Ligot; is it still being heard?, is it for final judgment?, is it being appealed for elevation? And the most important is to place dates at each event the case is at; status as of what date (indictment, conviction, sentencing, mistrial, exoneration etc), next steps by DOJ. Giving timelines to the public ensures that these cases are always top of mind and that they would have expectations as to the progress of cases. It also tells the justice department that people are avidly following the proceedings and expect things to happen per a time table committed to. The downside is that it opens itself to heckling media magpies should things fall short of the schedule. But then again media will always heckle with or without cause.

Somebody or some group should design a format for the scoreboard that is easily conveyed in print, television, radio, internet and other media. This may just be one small step but it is doable and it helps ensure that people are in the know at all times about the status of the high profile cases. People will now stop saying “ningas cogon lang yan” and that they will know that the government is pursuing doggedly all the cases and not a single one of them will be lost by the wayside because of the slow grind of our justice system.

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