Monday, April 18, 2011

Philippine Justice: A Joke

Sometimes in the teeth of an increasingly dysfunctional relationship between a people and its ruling class, a metaphor will come to mind that will put the whole distressing national situation to shame. I found myself one day many years ago, as a young boy on a Philippine vacation, witnessing the ant kingdom in action in my uncle’s backyard. I watched as a long, single-file line of ants labored mightily to carry a dead cockroach up the side of a wall to the top, only to see their work go to naught as a small lizard suddenly popped out of nowhere at the last second and snatch the roach away, thus robbing the ants of their hard-earned prize.

What does this have to do with the relationship between the masses of people and those stratospherically above them on the social, economic, and political totem pole? Firstly, it has to do with the lamentable state of affairs that Filipinos find themselves in as citizens of an impoverished, disproportionate, and corrupted republic. That, and how the idea of justice for all has been detached from the universally-recognized human rights of the Filipino people.

To take up the metaphor: the ants reminded me of the multitudes of ordinary, resourceful, and upstanding Filipinos who are disgusted by the baleful acts of injustice that are defiling their country and who refuse to stand idly by while they take place. And then there is the omnipresent, ever-lurking lizard which symbolizes the economic and political power establishment in the Philippines. The Philippine power establishment, much like the lizard of my metaphor, has deprived the teeming masses of the social virtue of justice, working it so that justice is uprooted.

When former senator Panfilo Lacson went into hiding before being formally charged in January 2010 with the murders in the Dacer-Corbito double homicide case, I was gratified that the moment had finally arrived when justice was being dispensed on a man whose reputation put him somewhere between Al Capone, Wyatt Earp, and Saddam Hussein. After years of dodging justice, it seemed as if Lacson’s extensive body of allegedly illicit activities had caught up to him.

I breathed a sigh of contentment as justice began knocking on Lacson’s door. It could not have happened to a more deserving person. A highly-controversial individual who has been circumstantially accused more than once of corruption and of cold-blooded murder, Lacson, later in his professional life, perversely imagined himself as a respectable public figure and presidential candidate who believed in above else, peace and order. Although for Lacson, a former law enforcement apparatchik and chieftain, order as he twisted it, would always come before peace.

Lacson’s preemptive absconding from the Philippines to avoid murder charges only added to the incriminations leveled against him by his adversaries. Soon thereafter, there was talk of possible extradition from whatever foreign haven Lacson had fled to. That’s how serious the charges were against him. “Supercop” as he was once called, was now constantly looking over his shoulder at enemies, real and imagined. Quite an irony for someone who used to make it a point to make others glance over their shoulder.

But the wily Lacson still had a few tricks up his sleeve, tricks that would gain him a return pass back to the Philippines with impunity. Lacson’s extensive connections in the military and in the power establishment served him well. So, instead of being administered the due process of law for murder which should have been the case, Lacson returned home free as a bird. It was as if he had never left.

Ping Lacson’s homecoming from near-ignominy merely confirmed what is patently a vile fact of life for Filipinos—justice and the rule of law cannot be applied to the rich and powerful and the well-connected. After the acquittal of Hubert Webb, General Carlos Garcia’s shady plea bargain deal, the Marcos family’s re-ascension to public office, and now, Ping Lacson’s close shave with a murder indictment, the message being sent could hardly be clearer: justice in the Philippines does not exist for the weak, the powerless, and the dispossessed. You’ve seen the renditions of a blindfolded Lady Justice holding the scales of justice? Well, in the Philippines, Lady Justice isn’t even in the picture.


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