Naming and shaming the generals

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino
Naming and shaming the generals
What justification, legal or moral, was there for having embarrassed the police generals before a finding of culpability against them was reached?

It had tremendous shock-value: the President reading the names of generals off a list, ordering them relieved and directing that they be proceeded against forthwith.  He described them as coddlers and protectors of drug peddlers.

Many got the message that the dramatic announcement was calculated to make: This is a no-nonsense president who does exactly he promises. He had warned “narco-generals” to resign, or to face being shamed. Obviously, the seasoned prosecutor in him saw that there was “ground engendering a reasonable belief” that a crime – or crimes – had been committed, and that the people he named were probably guilty.

Probably. And that is just the problem others have. They were shamed nationally, and so were the members of their families. How is the son or daughter of one of the mentioned generals going to face the inquiring stares of schoolmates when academic sessions resume?

What justification, legal or moral, was there for having embarrassed them before a finding of culpability against them was reached? Probable cause – and I am sure, the President worked with that degree of proof, in the very least. But in our system of criminal justice, it is not for him to arrive at probable cause, but for the prosecutor – which he is no longer, because he is the Mayor of the Philippines!

To be sure, the public naming of suspects is not new. Officials who find themselves criminally charged before the Department of Justice or the Office of the Ombudsman also find themselves on the banner headlines of newspapers or on television primetime. That is one reason that it is wise to avoid public office when one can, unless one is sure to be upright at all times!  But this time, there was a special punch: It was the President himself who had named the generals malefactors, causing their stars to come quite awkwardly crashing down.

Proving one’s innocence

Now, the State must make its case against them. It is not they who must prove their innocence. That is just  the way it works. Digong warned the National Police Commission against entertaining him with a zarzuela. I did not know they still staged zarzuelas in Davao City, but that to me is ominous.

Does that mean that he will not accept a finding of innocence, or accept a verdict, administrative or judicial, of exoneration?  In fact, insofar as the administrative system of appeals is concerned, the Office of the President is at the apex of the appeals ladder, and so it would behoove him from prejudging the case because he will, in the end, entertain appeals. A judge must not only be fair but must appear to be fair!

Some actions are calculated to elicit desired effects from spectators. These actions are called “dramaturgical.” Drama, the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan wisely instructs, is not a respite from the business of daily living. It is part and parcel of the serious, the quotidian. That was what the announcement was all about – drama, for very salutary reasons. The scourge of drugs has reached unconscionable proportions, because PNoy and his minions were more intent at jailing Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and others for whom they harbored an irrational dislike rather than dealing with the menace.

And now the “what ifs.”

Suppose the generals are found innocent – or the charges are found baseless, how does one restore the luster to a star so brusquely snatched and trampled underfoot?  That is the problem. A presidential apology would make some amends but it is our misfortune as a people that we prefer to believe the worst about others. And that is why it might be the better part of wisdom – as well as charity – for the President to make use of the whole load of intelligence data that has reached him, to superintend the prosecution of cases and to see to their speedy resolution.  

This should be no tall order for one who has promised to make short shrift of anyone who stands in his path. Police and prosecutors, after all, are fully within the reach of his now manifestly very hard executive left-hook! –


The author is Dean, Graduate School of Law, San Beda College and professor at the Cagayan State University

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