By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
“Our gathering this morning is an opportunity to further assess the strengths and weaknesses of the present criminal justice system, and to come up with new and timely initiatives concerning the delivery of justice… Your decisions and the steps you take have implications integral to our democracy.”
That’s how President Aquino defined the objective of the First National Criminal Justice Summit, a laudable initiative by the Department of Justice, which he addressed last Monday at the Manila Hotel. We missed being informed of the summit’s output because the media coverage focused on P-Noy’s frontal tirades against the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Nonetheless, the President raised a point highly relevant to today’s observance of Human Rights Day: the injustice inflicted by Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime upon his father, Ninoy Aquino, the opposition leader who was later assassinated and now regarded as a hero.
Ninoy and Jose W. Diokno, then both senators, were arrested and held for two years in isolated military detention. Whereas Diokno was freed without being charged with any offense, Ninoy was dragooned into trial and conviction by court martial on trumped-up murder and related common criminal charges.
P-Noy summed up that ignoble procedure thus: “The dictatorship exerted all efforts to skew justice and run roughshod over my father’s human rights.”
With that flashback, P-Noy emphasized that he had sworn “to do justice to every man” in executing the laws and “to make certain that what transpired during martial law does not happen again, and ensuring that anyone who so much as attempts to repeat the same offenses is held accountable.”
Fast-forward to the plight of 356 political prisoners all over the country, who have been on a week-long fast/hunger strike to press for their immediate release. They have been charged, like Ninoy, with trumped-up common criminal offenses. The reality is that they were arrested for holding political beliefs different from those approved by those in power.
And like Ninoy, some of them have been convicted of the charges under questionable procedures.
As discussed in this space last week, the Hernandez “political offense doctrine,” set and upheld eight times by the Supreme Court since 1956, require that the protesting detainees be charged with the political offense of rebellion, “plain and simple,” not with common crimes that are deemed subsumed by rebellion.
In light of the objective of last Monday’s justice summit, and consistent with his vow to do justice to every man, shouldn’t P-Noy order the immediate rectification of this practice that violates the Hernandez doctrine?
Factor in the fact that “criminalizing political offenses” began under the presidency of his mother, Cory Aquino who had declared that her government would be the exact opposite of Marcos’ doesn’t the President have a more compelling moral responsibility to rectify the questionable practice?
Another action that P-Noy’s government needs to take, along with prosecuting Arroyo and her cohorts for electoral sabotage and plunder, is to accelerate the pursuance of cases involving human rights violations perpetrated during Arroyo’s nine-year presidency.
Among these are:
1. Push the DoJ to act favorably on the criminal charges against retired Army Major Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and his co-respondents in relation to the 2006 abduction-disappearance of former UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno. The case, filed by the victims’ parents at the DoJ in May, underwent preliminary investigation and has been due for resolution since October.
2. Nudge the Ombudsman to promptly resolve the case of kidnapping, arbitrary detention and other offenses filed on Sept. 12, 2008 by Raymond E. Manalo against former AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Major Generals Palparan Jr. and Juanito Gomez, and several others.
Last July 29 the National Union of People’s Lawyers filed an urgent motion to resolve the case, citing the Ombudsman’s order on Oct. 26, 2010 requiring the parties to file their respective position papers within 10 days, after which the case would be deemed submitted for decision.
The NUPL sought similar action on the case of arbitrary detention and maltreatment filed on Nov. 16, 2006 by Oscar Leuterio against Generals Palparan and Gomez and Lt. Col. Manuel Clement.
The Manalo case rests firmly on the affidavit and personal testimony of the courageous victim, to which the Court of Appeals gave full credence after it heard, one after the other, his petition for a writ of amparo and that of the relatives of Empeno and Cadapan.
Specifically, Manalo gave damning testimony on Palparan’s direct role in the abductions.
Upon appeal by the Department of Defense and the respondents, the Supreme Court en banc reviewed the cases and affirmed the CA’s factual findings. Then Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno penned the landmark decision on Manalo.
Raymond and his brother Reynaldo, both young Bulacan farmers, were abducted and held in various military detention areas for almost two years. They managed to escape and sought protection by the courts. Raymond is the key prosecution witness in the Cadapan-Empeno abduction-disappearance case.
The successful prosecution of these cases can break the climate of impunity on human rights violations. And credit will be due to P-Noy.
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December 10, 2011