A senator is arrested
I thought that I would be applauding when this day would come. After all, I was full of loathing for Leila de Lima when she all but snubbed the Supreme Court, shoved her own reading of law and procedure in the face of the President who had plucked her from a rather lackluster election law practice for the Commission on Human Rights, instructing her minions at the airport to pay no heed to the Supreme Court. In those unfortunate days, Leila was very powerful and highly favored. She was PNoy’s lackey. And of course, the tide has turned, as it is always bound to turn. Those who want to play God had better learn this well: that their pedestals have a life-span of only 6 years!
The day I thought I was waiting for eagerly came. Leila was served with a warrant of arrest and she dutifully surrendered. But truth to tell, I am downcast, as I was when GMA was arrested and booked, like I was morose when JPE, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada were arrested. And even if I joined the crowds that howled for Erap’s ouster, I knew I had matured when I rued that day because I caught the hint that it was the beginning of a not too cheerful trend: unseating presidents. I was certainly outraged when the Senate convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona on a supposedly falsified SALN, because it is a matter of general knowledge that more SALNS are falsified than are veridical!
But I am not unaware that many are cheering, and that too troubles me. We take perverse delight in a reversal of fortunes, not so much for the better – because this is always worth cheering – but when a cruel turn of events sends the mighty tumbling down, groveling in the dirt, then I ask myself: Why should there be glee in this, unless we are really perverse? It is like we want them to pay for having attained the high office, the position of privilege, the niche of distinction that, very often, they worked hard to achieve. It is even more puzzling when we cheer the downfall of one we elected to high office.
How many ran for the office of Senator of the Republic? In fact, that was what made the election more complicated than they should have been. Many had thrown their hats into the political ring without really intending to – with the result that we had quite a long list of candidates. Leila de Lima was among the few who made it to the Upper House of Congress of the Philippines. And so why are we in glee at her arrest? We know that she has been charged with many offenses, many of them too ridiculous to pass any laugh test. What we do not know – and what really matters – is whether she is guilty or not.
When the Ombudsman inflicts an administrative sanction on a public officer it finds guilty of trespassing the law, or the Sandiganbayan sentences an erring official to suffer a stiff prison term, we are usually convinced that what were meted out were just deserts. But when GMA suffered at De Lima’s hands – following adverse orders of the Ombudsman – it was what went before that obscured the figure of lady justice wielding her awesome sword with veiled eyes so that she would be no respecter of persons but the embodiment of the law’s impartiality.
Before the former president’s arrest and speedy detention, largely on De Lima’s orders, PNoy had practically made it an election vow to send his predecessor to the slammer. When this happens, one is convinced that it is not justice that is served, but the victor basking in his victory! It was the same thing with Corona, for before he faced the ordeal of trial at the Senate, he was dressed down in public by the President of the Philippines, after having been snubbed at the inauguration rites. And so, when, from a litany of supposed crimes, the House Managers had to admit that they had evidence for only a paltry items that remained after the scathing and vitriolic assaults of the incomparable Miriam Defensor Santiago on the prosecution’s case – including her chastisement of Vitaliano Aguirre II that sent him scurrying away from the Senate floor – and still got a indubitable majority of votes for conviction, it was very hard to doubt the common conviction that PNoy was getting his way, through his minions at the Senate.
De Lima – not without reason – was the object of many of Digong’s choicest epithets in his very colorful oratorical repertoire, and the cheering squad in the Lower House looks days to live out their fantasies of being prosecutor in some thrilling courtroom battle by cross-examining “guests” and “resource persons” whom they grilled over impertinences – like the fruit that Dayan and De Lima supposedly shared in one out-of-town trip. Is it comeuppance, then, that has now befallen De Lima, or is rather the visitation of arrogance upon one who, as Commission on Human Rights chairman, had to do what she had sworn she would do, and risk the wrath of a mayor who had – and still has – virtually nonexistent tolerance for opposition?
And, no, I will not join in the demand that she be thrown in with “common criminals” in the dank, dehumanizing pit that our prisons in fact are, because we do not yet know whether she is a criminal or not. In fact, I maintain the proposition – on the basis of the Constitution’s own text – that the only legitimate reason for denying a person bail as a matter of right is when such a person is charged with an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, AND when evidence is guilt is strong. At this stage, we do not know that – not the judge, at least, whose task it is to make that determination. And so absent a finding that the evidence of guilt is strong, how does one constitutionally defend the denial of the right of one accused to temporary liberty under bail?
Archbishop Soc was once more his prophetic self. Siding with none, neither prematurely acquitting, nor pre-empting the courts, he prayed as every priest prays – and invited Catholic Philippines to do the same: “Lord, heal our land”. And the despicable chorus of trolls derided him for even praying. We are close to being, as a nation, completely bankrupt in spirit. – Rappler.com
Fr Ranhilio Callangan Aquino is Vice-President for Administration and Finance, Cagayan State University; and Dean, Graduate School of Law, San Beda College