The First Year


It’s hard to be objective in assessing President Noynoy Aquino’s first year in office. He being the historic first to get an overwhelming mandate from the Filipino people, those evaluating Aquino, like me, would like to see him succeed. His victory is shared with the people, while his failure will be borne by the people alone. On the other hand, because he has a popular mandate, there are those who simply will never appreciate what he has done. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would be in this group.

But because politics has become a science, leaders have to be evaluated at least on the basis of what they promised they would do once given the mandate.

First, he promised that he would not be corrupt, and that neither would he tolerate corruption. Mr. Aquino scores big in this category. Fault him for being indecisive, fault him with KKK, fault him with lack of vision, but his primary promise was to be clean. He scores a perfect 10 on this one. Let’s put it this way, with parents like Ninoy and Cory, does he have a choice? Of course not. He would be hounded by his own parents from their graves if he were to be corrupt.

The next question though is: Has he promoted his own standard of honesty in the entire governmental machinery? Again, the answer is a resounding no. But this is to be expected. PNoy can only hope to lead by example. He cannot rid the entire system of the malaise, at least not after only 365 days. Where he needs improvement though is in implementing the laws and the rules as head of the executive branch of government. It’s not enough to be honest himself. He has to ensure that those who were corrupt are punished so that others will learn by way of example not to be corrupt. The fact is one year later, PNoy has not filed even a single case of corruption against Arroyo or her cohorts. Tax cases are simply no substitute for the enforcement of the country’s anti-graft laws. We need to hold the corrupt responsible for their deeds in order to uphold the principle that public office is a public trust. Somehow, enforcement of tax laws does not have the seriousness and resolve as upholding the most basic constitutional principle on governance.

He promised to address poverty. Unfortunately, whether or not he succeeded here will be purely speculative. Both gains and setbacks could be attributed to the past administration. What is important is how novel he has been in implementing this promise to uplift majority of our people from poverty.

I’m afraid that the answer is that there has not been too much imagination. What the President has to show for this promise is the conditional cash transfer program, a flagship also of the past administration; and the public-private partnership (PPP) program, which still has to be implemented.

Where Aquino needs to be credited, though, is the perception that under his watch, there will be a level playing field for business translated lately into an upgrade in our credit rating from Moody’s and other credit rating agencies. In fairness therefore, if only because of very limited time, we need to give the President a modest seven out of 10 on this criterion.

Then there is peace and order. He did promise that extralegal killings would stop and that their perpetrators will be punished. He even made mention of the Maguindanao massacre in particular, but without saying what he would promise for the case.

Well, the killings have not stopped, killers have not been convicted, and the Maguindanao massacre prosecution is on-going without clear indications either when it will end, or how. Here, the President almost fails, but for some redeeming points. Leila De Lima is still a gem for being the Secretary of Justice with a human-rights perspective. De Lima is about to take the ultimate litmus test herself that will determine her place in Philippine history and in the floor of the Senate: whether to charge her own client, Joel Reyes for the murder of Doc Gerry Ortega. But certainly, PNoy’s choice for the Justice portfolio is like an oasis in the desert. Furthermore, while the killings have not stopped, gone is the perception that the killings are tolerated by the highest officer of the land. This at least gives hope to both victims and advocates alike. My score here: eight.

PNoy’s Waterloo: the promise that we, the people, would be his boss and that there would be no kaibigan (friend) and kamag-anak (relative) in governance. There may not have been a literal breach of his promise insofar as relatives are concerned, to the chagrin of Rep. Peping Cojuangco et al., but instead, there were kaklase (classmates), kaibigan and kabarilan (shooting buddies). Mr. President, when you promised that we the people would be your boss, we expected not only pro-people policies; but also officials who will be pro-people themselves. We simply have not seen these from your KKKs. In fact, they may end up destroying your administration. My score here: seven.

How did the President do? Not bad. On the basis of only four criteria, he scored eight out of 10. This means that in my book, Aquino was a good President this past year, although with a lot of room for improvement. With five years still to go, there’s plenty of time and opportunity for this. Make no mistake about it, we the people are hoping and praying for PNoy’s success.

‘Tongpats’ and the Spratlys


It’s a relief to have a President who is standing up to a bully. Whereas GMA sought to give away Philippine territory in exchange for anomalous Chinese deals, PNoy, even with absolutely no military firepower, has advanced the Philippine claim to the Kalayaan group of islands and the West Philippine seas firmly and without hesitation. This group of islands in the West of the country was described in maps merely as “hazards to navigation” until the 70’s. That was when we discovered oil in the area. The science is since oil and natural gas products are found in the continental shelf, the soil and sub-soil constituting the prolonged landmass of the Palawan archipelago, it may be that further petroleum resources are located in the other portions of the continental shelf beneath the rocks and islets constituting the Spratlys group of islands. This explains why China, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia all proceeded to lay claim to part or the entirety of the Spratlys. The title of the Philippines to the islands is because of discovery coupled with effective occupation. While it was a fact that many of the disputed islands, including Spratlys Island itself, which Taiwan has referred to as “Itu Iba”; were then under Japanese control during World War II, Japan nonetheless renounced its title to them without specifying to whom it was relinquishing the title. This prompted Thomas Cloma, a Merchant Marine school owner, to claim title to the islands by way of discovery of islands that were “terra nullius”, or without an owner. This claim to discovery was then espoused by Diosdado Macapagal. We have since by law, created the Municipality of Kalayaan as the local government for the area, and appended it to the Province of Palawan. We have also since performed acts indicating the exercise of sovereignty, referred to as “effectivities”. These would include the building of military installations on islands under our control and the award of concessions to explore for further mineral deposits in the area. While our mode of claiming title to the Spratlys may not be iron-clad, as in fact, it is hinged exclusively on the assumption that it was rendered “terra nullius” with the Japanese renunciation, still, the Philippines is the only country which has scientific evidence to prove that bulk of the contested area constitute its extended continental shelf. This much we have proven in the UP Law Center’s Institute of International Legal Studies Project on the Extended Continental Shelf. Further, as we are the closest claimant to the disputed islands, we are the only one that can claim a presumption of ownership over them. And as the only archipelagic claimant country, we have a monopoly to the claim that the islands, rocks, islets and waters surrounding them form part of our archipelago. The claim to title of China and Vietnam appear to be even more porous than ours. To begin with, both countries rely on ancient historical title, which of late, has been ruled by international tribunals as almost impossible to prove. China for instance, cannot prove an intent to possess the islands in the concept of an owner because sovereignty was foreign and unknown under its Confucian legal system. Likewise, Vietnam’s claim to historical title is impossible to prove using modern day rules of evidence given that very old records cannot be authenticated precisely because the persons who executed them are no longer around to identify them. Malaysia and Brunei, on the other hand, lay claim to portions of the area solely as part of their respective continental shelves. Of course, it is still our wish that the Spratlys controversy is resolved peacefully and preferably through negotiations, binding mediation, arbitration, or even through judicial means, either before the International Court of Justice or the United Nations Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (UNTLOS). Meanwhile, it imperative that other than showing political will, that this reform-minded PNoy Administration undo GMA’s machinations which collectively, weaken our claim to the disputed area. First, there is the Joint Seismic and Exploration Agreement with China. As far as I know, the only way to prospect for oil in the continental shelf is through seismic testing. As such, these tests can only be conducted by Filipinos or through FTAA’s, if foreigners are involved. The Joint Seismic agreement, apart form violating the Constitution, will weaken our claim in the same way that an owner of disputed property weakens his claim when he agrees to use and exploit the disputed property with his adversary. Second, there is an urgent need to repeal the 2009 archipelagic baselines law, which my good friend and ally, Senator Sonny Trillanes, authored while behind bars. This law incorporates the Spratlys under the so-called “regime of islands”. A state only adopts this regime for offshore islands, or islands located so far away from its mainland. Obviously, by resorting to this method, we undermine what could be our strongest claim to the islands: that is, that not only are they proximate to us; but more importantly, they form part of our archipelago. Third, there is need to annul all the anomalous Chinese deals that were given to the past administration as consideration for our national territory. To those who have been asking how the “tongpats” could be recovered by the project proponent of the National Broadband Network, the answer is now clear: it is the Spratlys, Diwalwal, North Davao and Northrail, all of which were granted by the past administration to Chinese companies. Tongpats for national territory: unforgiveable!

Live coverage?


A year and five months after some victims of the Ampatuan massacre asked the court for leave to broadcast the trial live on television and radio, the Supreme Court finally allowed this live coverage, so we thought. In their pleadings, the victims alleged that because every killing of a journalist is prima facie an affront on press freedom, the public at large have now acquired a right to know what is happening in the trial of a massacre that resulted in at least 32 counts of infringement of press freedom. This right to know and right to information on matters concerning public concerns should prevail as against the right of the accused to be protected against perceived pre-judgment. The fact is that the prohibition against live coverage of criminal trials originated in the United States where ordinary individuals, or a jury of “peers” will determine the guilt or innocence of an accused. Because this juries are composed of ordinary people with no training on the formal rules of evidence, American courts originally sought to protect the integrity of the process by insulating the jury members from pubic opinion which may arise from a live coverage of the proceedings. Through the years, though, American courts have discovered that there is no basis for this earlier fear of a pre-judgment. One, it appears that while jury members are untrained in law, they are nonetheless given directions by the Judge on how to appreciate certain evidence presented before them. Two, and more importantly, it has been the experience by American courts that jury members take their roles more seriously than originally thought. In fact, many of them have said that where life or liberty is at risk, they decide the issue of guilt or innocence independent of any outside information that they may acquired in the course of the trial. If only because we do not have a jury of one’s peers, we have more reason that live coverage must be allowed in our jurisdiction. To begin with, Filipino judges are presumed to be experts in evidence. Hence, there is more reason they should not be influenced by media coverage of cases pending before them. On a very pragmatic level, the live coverage would mean that the victims, already of limited means since they lost their bread winners, no longer have to come to Manila just to witness the proceedings. They can now do so in the comfort and safety of their homes. Moreover, the public, since they will now have the chance to listen to and hear the testimony of witnesses, can make heir own conclusions on the reliability and weight of the testimonial evidence. Also, because live coverage will inevitably prompt all the lawyers involved in the trial to be in their best behavior, live coverage may also assist in expediting the proceedings. No lawyer would ant to be accused of being the cause of delay. Having said all these, there remains the matter of guidelines issued by the Supreme Court. Apparently, and if we are to believe Court spokesman Midas Marquez, the Court required that all media outlets seeking to broadcast the proceedings must do so continuously until the proceedings are terminated. Apparently, the published guidelines also provide that the proceedings must be broadcast in its entirety, without commercial breaks, and without commentaries. While I have no issues against the provision that the broadcast should only be through one camera which should be static, I was perplexed to hear from the Court spokesman and administrator that the guidelines provide for all or nothing: broadcast everything or nothing at all. My view is that any act, be it from Congress, the Courts, or the Executive which would substitute their judgment for the editorial judgment of media practitioners on what should be covered or what should be broadcast, is an infringement of freedom of the press. In fact, in the United States, the right to reply, a mandatory act that would compel media owners to print the side of a person being written about was unconstitutional because it is the editors who should have the discretion on what should or should not see print or broadcast. Similarly, US courts have invalidated the right to reply as a violation of the due process clause since property rights of media owners are violated when they are compelled to carry a reply even if in their judgment, such is not necessary. These arguments apply equally to the guidelines issued by the court. It is the editors who should have the discretion to determine what to broadcast, and not the Court. Likewise, why should the Court compel them to broadcast the entire proceedings when the business reality is that the broadcast industry relies on precious air time for their advertisement revenues? To compel them to dedicate precious air time solely to the Ampatuan trial is tantamount to a taking without due process of law. To recapitulate, while the Court was correct in ruling that live coverage of the Ampatuan trial will not violate the rights of the accused, it should reconsider its guidelines which appear to violate the letters an spirit of press freedom. I hope the court can still amend its guidelines to suit its ends and protect the ever-important right to a free and vibrant press.

Too late the hero


At long last, the Anti-Money Laundering Council  finally filed a petition to freeze the Ampatuans’ assets with the Court of Appeals. Of course, the CA , because  its Justices are not from another planet, naturally issued a temporary freeze order . The question now is this: Wwill there still be assets to freeze at this late stage in the game? The Ampatuan massacre happened more than a year and a half ago. Some of the victims whom we represent made the request with the Council to file a freeze order more than six months ago. Why the late action?

The Council Secretariat’s executive director, Vicente Aquino in a letter to this newspaper reacting to an earlier column  that I wrote,  said that our impatience with them was borne of ignorance of the law and procedures. He was insistent, and he repeated this in a hearing at the Senate, that his office could not cause the filing of a freeze order with the courts without a finding of probable cause made by the Office of the Ombudsman in a complaint for either plunder or a violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act. Well, it seems that his own office proved Aquino wrong. The court did order a temporary freeze even without any action on the Ombudsman on the lone complaint for plunder filed by the same massacre victims who requested his office to file a petition for freeze order. Clearly, Aquino was attempting to justify the unjustifiable when he misinterpreted the law to explain their inaction on the Ampatuan wealth.

 

In the Senate hearing where Aquino, Secretary Leila de Lima, and I were invited as resource persons, he interpreted the law’s provision which reads as “…upon determination that probable cause exists that any deposit or similar account is in any way related to an unlawful activity” to mean a determination by the Ombudsman or the public prosecutor that probable cause exists for plunder or graft before his office could petition the court for a freeze order. Fortunately, I did not have to respond to such a patently wrong reading made by no less than the executive director of the office created to implement the law. This chore was left to Secretary de Lima who patiently explained to Aquino and the senators that it was not the job of the AMLA to determine probable cause for the commission of a crime, but only to determine existence of probable cause that accounts or assets may be the fruits of an illegal activity.

 

Aquino countered that this was a wrong reading of the law since according to him, “what would happen if after the freeze, the Ombudsman or the fiscal does not find probable cause?” Again, de Lima, with even more patience, explained that in which case, the frozen assets would simply be unfrozen. The liability of those responsible for the erroneous freeze would depend on whether they acted with malice or gross negligence. In which case, the account holder may sue them criminally, civilly, and administratively.

 

I guess the best proof that Aquino and his boss, Governor Amando Tetangco, are both wrong is their very own petition which the  Court of Appeals quoted in  ordering the freeze: “We agree with petitioner that probable cause exists that the subject bank accounts and other described properties of the respondents in the petition are related to unlawful activities; and that unless frozen, the funds in the subject accounts will certainly be withdrawn and the other identified properties disposed of, thereby placing them beyond the reach of the law”. Lo and behold, after belittling our knowledge of the law, the council turns around and adopts what we have been saying is the correct interpretation of the law!

 

But then, the question remains unanswered: why did the council take one year and seven months to tell the Court of Appeals what we have known all along: that the incredible wealth of the Anpatuans could not have come from legitimate sources given the documented income of local elected officials? Well, the most altruistic view would be that it is due to its own ignorance of the law that it  seeks to implement. To me, though, it is still because the council’s top officials, like Tetangco, are beholden to the past administration. In turn, the Ampatuans are darlings of that administration.

 

In any case, I sincerely hope that council isn’t playing too late the hero here.

 

***

 

On another point, much ado has been made about the recent resignation of Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose “Ping” De Jesus. There is no doubt that de Jesus was among the truly good ones in the Aquino administration — together with Secretary De Lima, Jesse Robredo, and Albert Del Rosario. But the point is, unless you’re willing to make huge financial sacrifices or have further ambitions, it really is difficult to be in government with a salary of fifty thousand pesos per month. Let’s not read too much on a perfectly understandable decision. And yes, my good friend, the departed Josie Lichauco, herself a former DOTC Secretary, would be very happy that a person whom she has high respects for, Mar Roxas, took over the DOTC portfolio. I’m happy too that Roxas accepted.

 

This averted D-day between the Balay and Samar groups. Oh well, at least for now.

 

On Ampatuan asset freeze: we hope AMLC isn’t too late the hero


We sincerely hope the anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) isn’t playing too late the hero here.

This was the reaction today, (June 8, 2011) of lawyer Harry Roque, counsel for some relatives of journalists who perished in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre after hearing the news that the AMLC has finally obtained a 20-day freeze order from the Court of  Appeals against assets of the powerful Ampatuan clan.

“It’s about time the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) did this,” said Roque in a statement from the American University Washington College of Law, where he is teaching a short course on international human rights law.  “We hope there is still something to freeze because more than 500 days have already passed since the massacre and it is only now that the AMLC chair, Armando Tetangco Jr., the Central Bank governor, finally lifted a finger – we fear that so much opportunity had already been lost.”

On May 4 this year –or only last month –  Roque charged Tetangco and other members of the AMLC for failing to immediately freeze the assets of Andal Ampatuan Sr. and other principal accused in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre.

In December last year, Roque’s clients filed a request with the AMLC for an investigation on the alleged money laundering activities of the Ampatuans. They were surprised to learn that no government agency had made a similar request and the AMLC itself had, up to that point, not started any investigation on the fabled wealth of the Ampatuans. At a time with Roque’s clients. AMLC officials promised swift action on their request.

But after waiting for word from the AMLC on their request for six months, Roque filed graft, dereliction of duty and administrative misconduct charges against Tetangco. He also included former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairperson Fe Barin and Vida Chiong, acting Commissioner of the Insurance Commission – all members of the AMLC – in the charge sheet.

He filed the complaint on behalf of Ma. Cipriana Gatchalian, Myrna Reblando and Editha Mirandilla Tiamzon whose husbands were killed in the massacre while Juliet Palor Evardo is the mother of victim Daniel Becollado Tiamzon from UNTV.

They charged that the AMLC officials were guilty of inaction or gross negligence in connection with the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Ampatuans, which, according to an investigative report, run in the hundreds of millions of pesos.

They also cited a Commission on Audit Report stating the misappropriation of funds in Maguindanao by Zaldy Amptuan amounting to about a P1 billion when he was still governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“This fact alone, not counting the P386-million the clan patriarch allegedly gave away to bribe the loyalty and support of certain personalities already qualifies their crime as a clear case of plunder.”

“While they were in control of government and governance in the province of Maguindanao and their obvious lack of means to legitimately or legally accumulate such wealth, the presumption arises that they accumulated such ill-gotten wealth,” complainants said.

 

They said with the investigatory powers of AMLC, it could have immediately ordered an investigation into the reported ill-gotten wealth of the Ampatuans.

 

“But more than 500 days have already passed since the Nov. 23, 2009 carnage in Ampatuan town but the AMLC has not taken any significant step to prevent the Ampatuans from hiding their ill-gotten wealth, not even with the subsequent filing by some of the Private Complainants late last year of a petition for the AMLC to do just that,” they said in their 30-page complaint.

“Their inaction without doubt contributed to the Ampatuans’ sense of invincibility, since they could violate the laws with impunity, and without fear of criminal consequences, because even a body as powerful as the AMLC could choose to look the other way in their case.”

 

-30-

VIP treatment


It happened last Thursday, the day when this column is regularly published. The prosecution has at least four witnesses ready, three of whom we were going to present as private prosecutors. While Cipriana Gatchalian, wife of slain journalists Santos “Jun” Gatchalian was scheduled to testify, Joseph Jubelag was not. Joseph could have been the 33rd journalist victim of the Ampatuan massacre had he pushed through with his scheduled coverage of Esmael Mangudadatu’s filing of his certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao on November 23, 2009. Fortunately for him, he had previously written critical articles of the Ampatuan, specifically what he described as their ill-gotten wealth, and for which he received death threats.

He decided thus not to go with the doomed convoy at the very last minute. In fact, he had already filled his Mitsubishi Lancer with gas, together with the other vehicles of the convoy, when suffering from goose bumps, he decided to heed the call of nature and decided to return to the pension house where he and eleven other journalists spent the night of November 22, 2009. There, he was told by the first desk clerk that two seemingly Muslim men where inquiring about the identities of the journalists that stayed there the night before. He thought this to be strange and took this is an omen of the evil that was to happen.

 

Jubelag then called his close friend, Alejandro “Bong” Reblando to say that he was not joining the coverage. Bong understood and agreed to meet him at the residence of now Governor Esmael Mangudadatu in Buluan after the filing for a scheduled press conference. Bong would not make it back to Buluan, as together with 57 other victims, he would be  brutally murdered in Sharif Aguak, Maguindanao.

 

Among those to be charged with murder for the massacre would be Andal Ampatuan Sr and his sons, Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr,  Zaldy, Sajib and Akmad.

 

Joseph did take the witness stand last Thursday but did not have to testify. After initial protests from defense counsels that he was not in the list of witnesses to be presented, they nonetheless agreed to stipulate that Joseph could identify all 32 journalists who joined the Mangudadatu convoy on November 23, 2009. Joseph was also supposed to identify a blood-stained list of journalists who joined the convoy. In the absence of the original that was still in the possession of police authorities, Joseph could not identify the list. There also was no further reason for him to do so given the stipulation.

 

In any case, while Joseph was scheduled to be presented in the morning last Thursday, the defense objected. Judge Jocelyn Reyes, in order to give all  defense counsels, lawyer Sigrid Fortun  in particular, an opportunity to hear his testimony, decided to postpone Joseph’s testimony to 1:30 in the afternoon of the said date. Hearing was thus adjourned at an unusually early time of 11 AM.

 

I was already in my vehicle en route to lunch when victim Gemma Oquendo knocked at my vehicle’s window to say that Bureau of Jail Management and Penology chief Rosendo Dial had allowed the victims to conduct a surprise visit to the Ampatuan detention facility. This consent was apparently broadcasted on national radio. Excitedly, we rushed back  into the BJPM compound and proceeded to the office of the then warden, Glennford Valdepenas. We waited for almost an hour before we realized that the former warden would not bother to even face us. What made matters worse was that as we were patiently waiting outside the warden’s office, an Ampatuan lawyer entered the office so casually, it was as if he were part of the BJMP. This riled the victims then present, including Gov. Toto, and almost triggered a physical encounter between the victims, the Ampatuan lawyer, and the staff of the former warden.

 

As we left the warden’s office, another group of victims proceeded to the DILG to reiterate their request for a surprise visit to the Ampatuans. Apparently, Director Dial again agreed. But by the time this was relayed to me at about 5 PM of the same day, I thought that the visit would already be  useless. If it were true that the Ampatuans are being given very-important-prisoner treatment, surely, I thought, the six hours that had already expired since we originally sought to visit their detention facility would be more than sufficient time to get rid of evidence of this VIP treatment. I was simply unwilling to be a deodorizer. Full stop.

 

The good news is that Secretary Jesse Robredo lived up to his Magsaysay Award and has relieved Valdepenas from his post. He apparently is also making more surprise visits to Bicutan in an effort to rid the Ampatuans of VIP treatment. Asked for my comments today about what I thought of these initiatives, I said these were certainly welcome even if Robredo would have to make more of these visits to ensure that the Ampatuans are treated no differently from ordinary detention prisoners.  I also thought that the DILG would need a very deep bench for the post of warden of the Quezon City Annex detention facility in Bicutan as I’m sure many more will succumb to temptations.

 

Strangely, the Ampatuan lawyer Sigrid Fortun has himself admitted the existence of VIP treatment when he acknowledged on national television that his clients did have their food delivered (some will say catered) to them regularly. The  Ampatuan legal team has hence admitted what the victims have suspected all along: that the Ampatuans are in fact accorded special treatment.

 

Meanwhile, none of the victims, no one from the media, nor anyone from the general public has seen any of the Ampatuans as they are allegedly detained in Bicutan. The last that we saw Andal Sr, for instance, was when he was about to take a luxury SUV on his way to a medical examination. All that the Filipino people have by way of guarantee that the Ampatuans are in fact detained in Bicutan is the word of Secretary Robredo. And yes, let’s not even talk about VIP treatment when we are not even sure where they are.

 

ANDAL AMPATUAN SR’S LONG DELAYED ARRAIGNMENT: EVIDENCE OF DYSFUNCTIONAL JUSTICE SYSTEM


The long delayed arraignment of Andal Ampatuan Sr. for 57 counts of murder is
evidence of a dysfunctional justice system in the Philippines. While an accused like him has the right to a stay of his arraignment where he opts to challenge the existence of probable cause, the rules on criminal procedure nonetheless mandates that the suspension should  not be more than 60 days reckoned from the time of the filing of the Information. Our computation indicates that the 60-day period to which Ampatuan Sr. was entitled  expired in August of 2010. Yet, it is only today, 1 June 2011, when he is actually being arraigned.

There is more reasons to worry. Andal Sr’s arraignment was made possible
only because he voluntarily agreed to it. Never mind that the prosecution
has had a pending motion to have all the accused in  custody to be arraigned. The Court has not acted on this motion. This is alarming because seemingly, it was not the rules that compelled Andal Sr to enter a plea. On the contrary, it was only because he agreed to it- as if an accused can now rewrite the rules to suit his ends.

The Center for International Law, an affiliate of the Southeast Asia Media Legal Defense Network, private prosecutor representing media victims of the massacre, submits that an arraignment done in this manner undermines the country’s rule of law. Under human rights law, all accused should be treated
alike. Here, an arraignment, made dependent on the willingness of the accused to enter a plea, and not pursuant to the rules of criminal procedures, weakens and undermines the rule of law. It proves that some accused have more rights than others. This is a truly sad commentary on the state of our criminal justice system.

Neither do we think that altruism is behind Andal Sr’s  voluntary arraignment. To date, at least three of his sons, Zaldy, Sajib, and Akmed, have also not been arraigned, despite the lapse of the mandatory 60 days suspension. We believe that the voluntary nature of Andal’s arraignment is intended to deflect the public’s attention away from the controversy that has by now surrounded the Petition for reviews filed by Andal’s sons in the Court of Appeals. At least one columnist, Mon Tulfo, has written that at least 200 million circulated in the high court to effect the release of at least one of Andal’s sons.

Ultimately, this is why there is impunity in the Philippines. Despite a change in administration, the justice system is simply not working and its rebuilding- has not been made a priority.#30#