On the conviction of Mubarak et al: they have it better in Egypt

As we were engrossed with removing ex-Chief Justice Renato Corona from office, two major events, both involving public accountability, escaped our attention. The first was the conviction of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who was sentenced to life imprisonment for complicity in the murder of around 900 protesters in February 2011. According to the judgment, the former President “knew that the murders were to be committed and did nothing to prevent them.”

This conviction was noteworthy because Mubarak was the first leader of a country swept by the Arab Spring who was found guilty of atrocities against the protesting civilian population. It was also noteworthy because he was found guilty under the principle of superior responsibility. This is a manner of incurring responsibility distinct from actually ordering the commission of the crime. Liability under this principle is where a President, among others, knew that a crime was about to be committed and did nothing to prevent it.The media in Egypt published images of Mubarak detained in a prison cell, albeit in a prison hospital. This is as it should be.

Regrettably, this has never happened in our country because of our penchant for “hospital arrest”. Here, a former president accused of the commission of a crime is always detained at the presidential suite of V. Luna.

The second event was the conviction of yet another former head of state, Charles Taylor of Liberia, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone by rebel forces under him during the period of 1996 to 2002. His conviction was for terrorizing civilians, murder, rape and kidnapping children to use as soldiers.

During his sentencing, the Judge from the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone declared that “the prison term of 50 years of imprisonment for some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history seems woefully inadequate and incomplete.” He will serve his sentence in a British prison.

Taylor’s conviction was the first conviction for war crimes against a former head of state since the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II. Taylor financed his acts of terrorism through the trade of so-called blood diamonds. Witnesses in the trial talked about how mass killings were committed through machetes and how child soldiers were made to rape elderly women. The death toll during the limited time for which Taylor was convicted was a staggering 220, 000 lives.

In fairness, our own removal of the ex-chief justice was also reported worldwide and admired also as yet another act of promoting accountability among very high officials of government. The New York Times though was a bit sarcastic when it noted that this was the first time we removed a high-ranking official through legal means. Normally, the newspaper observed, we removed them through people power. But the case of Corona was simply for removal. It was not a conviction for crimes, which I am sure would take many, many more years to happen.

In any case, we should learn from the experience of Taylor and Mubarak. Heads of states, when they commit crimes, should be tried and punished as soon as possible. Note the quick conviction of Mubarak for acts committed within a year of his conviction. We note that in the case of the Maguindanao massacre, we’re on already on our third year and we have still to see even the light at the end of the tunnel. Certainly the following figures will indicate how different our criminal justice system is from the Egyptians’: out of 197 accused in the Maguindanao massacre, only 97 have been apprehended. Of this number, only 71 have been arraigned.  It would appear that at the rate the prosecution is proceeding, I might be a very old man before the trial ends, if at all.

Perhaps there is now reason for our own government to examine and compare our criminal justice system with those of Egypt and even the international tribunals created to prosecute the most horrific international crimes. It is high time we determine why a country like Egypt, which we have always thought to be behind us in development and in institutions, not to mention democratic processes, can make the wheels of justice work against the high and mighty. The trial of former President Joseph Estrada, which I think was nothing but personal vendetta of GMA, took us six years to finish. Expect the trials against Arroyo to last longer given her omnipresent influence in the Judiciary.

The removal of Corona should contribute to the reform of our criminal justice system. Alas, as it stands, our system continues to be in ruins.

Buti pa sa Egypt!


3 comments on “On the conviction of Mubarak et al: they have it better in Egypt

  1. I’ve been contemplating for days now as to whether I should comment on this or not. My fear is that I may appear polemical against Atty. Harry Roque. That is certainly not my intention. Rather, I want to raise some important points, be it contradictory.

    In a nutshell, I felt squeamish at the praise given by Atty Roque of Egypt’s swift justice against Mubarak. It does appear to be a better criminal justice system over that of ours in the Philippines for the simple and superficial reason it was given swiftly. But, there are plenty of telltale signs that casts doubt.

    First, Egypt has been on Emergency Rule for over 40 years now. Emergency Rule is akin to our Martial Law, most notably in that it suspends citizens’ constitutional rights.

    Second, before his exit, Mubarak, with over 30-years in office, was the longest-serving ruler since Muhammad Ali Pasha (circa early-to-mid 1800s). More than likely, Mubarak’s cronies have a firm footing in government and Egypt’s ruling society.

    Third, Mubarak’s exit, while sharing similarities to our People Power in that there was a public outcry for his removal, was nowhere near as dramatic as ours: there were no defecting cabinet members and generals, no COMELEC walk-outs, no opposition martyrdom, etc. He simply resigned, leaving all those he shared power with, intact.

    Fourth, the continued call for justice by the public after Mubarak’s exit from the presidency,although seeming to have been answered promptly,was met with suspicious resolutions. First, the assigned prosecutor is the same one appointed by Mubarak some years before. Second, while there were a number of cases filed, only those which did not call for a death sentence prevailed. Mubarak was pronounced not-guilty on all other charges (most notable of which were acts purported during his 30-years in power). And so, the initial jubilation of the public upon promulgation of the guilty verdict was quickly turned into anger upon realizing the true nature of the verdicts.

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