Faith in the justice system

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The institutions enshrined in our Constitution to put to the bar of justice those who commit crimes or acts of corruption are working. Two events of the past week demonstrate this in unmistakable terms.

On Friday last week, the Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales, a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, issued a resolution indicting former Philippine president, Benigno Aquino III, for usurpation of authority and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act over the botched police operation to arrest a Malaysian terrorist leading to the death of 44 Special Action Force personnel in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015.

The resolution by the Ombudsman was especially significant because it came at a time when events have been pointing to the disturbing trend of vigilante killings where unidentified people take the law into their own hands. Vigilante killing is a sign that people no longer trust the justice system to work, or that they think the length of time for prosecuting criminals and convicting them to answer for their crimes is not acceptable.

Take the case of the Carlos family massacred in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan in the last week of June. Five were killed, including three very young children, while the children’s mother, aged 35, and grandmother, aged 58, were both raped. In the days that followed, three “persons of interest” were summarily executed­—one after the other—their bodies left with a placard saying “Drug addict at rapist ako, wag tularan (I’m a drug addict and a rapist, do not follow my ways.)” One of them was found with four fingers and his sexual organ cut off.

Before the Resolution by the Ombudsman, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, an anti-crime watchdog, has been threatening the Ombudsman with impeachment for not indicting Aquino along with former Budget secretary, Florencio Abad, over the Disbursement Acceleration Program which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Recall that the DAP was alleged to have been used by the Palace during Aquino’s term as president to bribe the senators to convict impeached chief Justice Renato Corona. Because the Ombudsman was an appointee of Aquino, the VACC claimed that she excluded the former president from the indictment and filed charges at the Sandiganbayan only against Abad.

Thus, the Ombudsman’s indictment of Aquino now for usurpation of authority under Art. 177 of the Revised Penal Code and for violation of Sec. 3(a) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for persuading a public officer to violate rules and regulations is a single act that can effectively restore the people’s confidence in our institutions and the judicial system. Before Aquino, the former Police director general, Alan Purisima and SAF director, Getulio Napeñas were charged by the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan in January of this year for the same offense. In the eyes of the public, all the pillars of justice, from law enforcement to prosecution to judicial proceedings to the rendering of judgments, are a continuum of but one system—the judicial system. A failure in one pillar affects the people’s confidence in the entire judicial system.

One other incident that effectively brought back the people’s faith in law enforcement and police investigation was the use of forensic evidence, such as DNA testing, by the police in investigating the Bulacan massacre. The DNA taken from the main suspect, Carmelino Ibañez, matched the swabs taken from the genitals of victim Estrella Carlos, proving that he had raped her. Ibañez’ DNA likewise matched the blood stains on the knife used in the killing of Estrella, Auring Dizon, the mother of Estrella, and the kids, Ella and Dexter. This made the police conclude that another knife must have been used to kill Donny, the eldest child of the Carlos spouses and that the main suspect, Ibañez, was not alone in committing the murders. Before this, the police have been stereotyped as using torture to extract confessions rather than solving crimes by evidence gathering and analysis.

Add to this positive developments the latest move by the Supreme Court to speed up criminal proceedings in trial courts. Now, the system of continuous trial for criminal cases is in place. Soon, it is hoped, vigilantes will stop taking the law in their own hands. Not only are their acts unlawful—no matter how well-intentioned–they also destroy the institutions established by the Constitution to build a healthy and working democratic society for all Filipinos.

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