The recent death and burning of used car dealers Emerson Lozano and Venzon Evangelista highlight anew President Noynoy Aquino’s most pressing challenge: the restoration of the rule of law. I have said it before and will say it again: these killings are happening because of a lack of political will to make the criminal justice system work. Unless P-Noy recognizes the gravity of the problem and take bold and decisive moves to overhaul the system, no Filipino will be safe.
There should be no difference if the victim is killed because he is a political activist, journalist, or everyday folk. These killings are happening because their perpetrators are not apprehended, prosecuted and punished. Already, the reasons for this impunity are very clear: all the pillars in our criminal justice system are defective and require through overhauls.
First, our police apparently do not know how to investigate. A recent newspaper report indicated that 8 out of 10 of our policemen handling police investigations lack formal training and skills. Even prior to the release of this report, doctor Raquel Fortun, in her lectures on the investigation and prosecution of extralegal killings sponsored by the Center for International Law, complained that existing PNP investigation protocols ask police investigators to identify the suspect first before they are asked to gather evidence. In other jurisdiction that are able to punish killers, the procedure would be to gather evidence first, particularly physical evidence, or the type that does not lie, before they identify the suspect. Worse, in addition to lack of skill, our police of late have become notorious for being criminals themselves instead of being their pursuers. The 62 policemen indicted for the Ampatuan massacre, Sr. Inspector Jose Binuyag and his colleagues at the Asuncion Community Police precinct of the torture video notoriety, and PO 3 Antonio Bautista, who was accused of raping a detainee for vagrancy at the police station itself, are only some of the notorious policemen who have spurned public indignation.
Two, there is the National Prosecution Service with its 19-percent conviction rate. Part of the problem is that cases are lost due to sloppy police investigations. And yet, despite the knowledge that this is partly to blame for its dismal conviction rate, public prosecutors are altogether averse to involving themselves in police investigations despite existing executive orders compelling them to do so. One would think that if inept investigation is the problem, then the involvement of lawyers should be the solution. But no, our prosecutors will continuously invoke their alleged status as quasi-judicial posts as justification for their refusal to be involved in police investigations. One former American federal prosecutor, Christine Chung, also formerly a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, did not mince her words. In her view, the problem is that Filipino prosecutors are lazy. Full stop.
Three, there is the Judiciary. While our judges today could no longer complain of being underpaid, as in fact, their salaries today, courtesy of recent legislation and allowances from the local government units, are now almost at par with lawyers from the private sector; still, their pay hikes have not been accompanied by a corresponding improvement in their overall efficiency. Judges continue to hear cases at snail pace oblivious to the state obligation to finish the trial of cases involving extralegal killings with dispatch.
Finally, there is the citizenry who have either become jaded and hopeless, on one hand; or have completely lost all belief on the rule of law, turning instead to vigilante killing as the preferred means to maintain peace and order. This is prevalent in areas where vigilante killings are more of the norm rather than the exception. Davao City is one such place where ordinary folks have learned not only to accept the death squads. More alarming is the fact that they have become supportive of such groups.
How should P Noy deal with this single most pressing challenge? Well, he can begin by acknowledging that there is in fact a problem. After which, he should redefine his priorities in the justice front from running after tax cheats and smugglers, as he has asked Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to do; to making the investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of these killings as his absolute priority. Anything short of this would only strengthen the culture of impunity that already exists in our land.
Meanwhile, dear readers : pray for your lives and try to be safe.