Nobody is above the law

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posted July 17, 2017 at 12:01 am

THE decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to reinstate a police superintendent and 18 of his men despite pending homicide cases against them is disturbing on many levels.

First, no less than a Senate investigation had recommended murder charges be filed against Supt. Marvin Marcos and 18 of his men, after they raided a Leyte sub-provincial jail and shot dead Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa and another inmate, Raul Yap in November 2016.

At the hearings, senators from both sides of the political fence found Marcos’ account—that a swarm of armed policemen were defending themselves after two inmates, against all logic, pulled out pistols and shot at them—to be incredible.

This was in line with the findings of a National Bureau of Investigation probe that Espinosa and Yap were killed in a rubout, and not a shootout as the raiding policemen claimed. The NBI also pointed out that it was impossible for Espinosa and Yap to possess firearms and illegal drugs in their cells, which were recently included in a jail-wide search for contraband.

Despite these recommendations, the Justice department downgraded the murder charges to homicide, allowing Marcos and company to go free on bail, serve their administrative suspension, then go back to active duty.

Mr. Duterte makes it a point to note that Marcos had been suspended and served his suspension and can therefore be put back to work.

He said he didn’t care about the possible repercussions of his move despite the serious allegations against him.

“There’s a case against him? So what? The son-of-a-bitch criminal can invoke presumption of innocence, and the government can’t?” Duterte said in Filipino.

This brings us to the second troubling argument, which, at first blush, seems eminently reasonable. Why shouldn’t policemen be afforded the same presumption of innocence that ordinary criminal suspects get?

The fact is, policemen are given the same presumption of innocence. Until Marcos and his men are proved guilty in a court of law, they must be presumed to be innocent. This presumption of innocence, however, should not extend to returning them to a position in which they can abuse their power or office, particularly since they have not yet been acquitted of such charges.

In comparing policemen to common criminals, Mr. Duterte also undercuts the long-held belief that public officials—particularly those in law enforcement, should be held to a higher standard than ordinary citizens.

But perhaps the most disturbing of all of Mr. Duterte’s pronouncements is the promise that he will pardon Marcos if he is convicted. Given the glacial pace at which our court system proceeds, of course, this seems more like rhetoric than a serious promise. After all, it is likely that Mr. Duterte’s term will have run out before a judgement his handed down in the Leyte rubout case.

Still, the President’s promise to pardon all convicted policemen who are “doing their jobs” could be taken by law enforcers to be carte blanche to do whatever they want, even break the law.

And we all know that nobody is above the law—not even presidents.

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