Combating illegal drugs, crime and corruption

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AL S. VITANGCOL 3RD

AL S. VITANGCOL 3RD

The present Administration is bent on stopping the proliferation of illegal drugs, notwithstanding the threats of an international lawsuit for crimes against humanity or local hearings “in aid of legislation.” Likewise, the President promised a “clean government” and kick started it with the mass termination of all appointive officials (appointed by then President Aquino) effective Aug. 22, 2016.

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VACC Summit

In line with the President’s programs against illegal drugs and corruption, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), headed by Founding Chairman and President Dante L.A. Jimenez, recently convened a one-day Summit on Illegal Drugs, Crime and Corruption.

The primary objective of the Summit was to draw a 10-point agenda on combating illegal drugs, crime, and corruption. This agenda, together with the group’s recommendations and doable actions, shall be presented to President Rodrigo Duterte on the VACC’s 18th Founding Anniversary.

The Summit was well attended, with representatives coming from various interest groups from almost all sectors of society.

Slow and biased justice system

One of the reactors on the topic of illegal drugs was Mary “Rosebud” Ong, a whistleblower on the involvement of law enforcers in the illegal drugs trade. Also present in the audience was Maia S. Deguito, the erstwhile Jupiter Branch manager of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), who was allegedly involved in the money laundering scheme of the funds stolen from the Bangladesh Central Bank sometime in February this year.

Ms. Ong, upon seeing Ms. Deguito, remarked that the latter would not be in her present predicament had our justice system been working properly. She said that it’s the very slow, and clearly biased justice system, which is the root of all of our society’s ills. In 2001, Ms. Ong testified before the Senate of the Philippines that pointed out that a certain Kim Wong was involved in the illegal drugs trade. Fifteen (15) years after, the same Kim Wong appeared in the Senate. This time in connection with the Bangladesh Central Bank heist. Ms. Ong added that if Mr. Wong was charged and jailed way back in 2001, there would be no Mr. Kim Wong who would have received the stolen money from RCBC.

Ms. Ong emphasized that the small fries and runners in 2001 are the big-time drug lords of today. This reeks of something. Somewhere, somehow there is really something wrong with our judicial system.

Reforming the judicial system

The sad reality is that cases are not decided based on the merits but on the prevailing political and “economic” conditions. More often than not, the judges’ (or even justices’) decisions are in accord with the pronouncements of the appointing authorities and those in power. This is a real dilemma in a society where the judges are the sole decision makers in the outcome of a case. There will always be a judge (or even a justice) who would succumb to the offer of money, or even power, to thwart the outcome of a case.

One of the suggestions of Mr. Greco Belgica, of the DAP-PDAF fame, is the adoption of a jury system – for all hierarchies of courts. He said, “Start talking about and pursuing the jury system. If we have one law for all, then we should have one court for all.”

Institutionalizing a jury system

Efforts to institutionalize a jury system in the Philippines are not new. In 2005, Philippine Jury Campaign International (PhilJury), a London-based organization, started pushing for the adoption of a jury system in our country. They have lobbied before our lawmakers and conducted orientations and educational campaigns nationwide.

Similarly, there are individuals who are pushing for reforms in the judicial system by way of the jury system. Atty. Marlowe Camello wrote that the jury system is “[t]he only effective device to minimize government corruption ever invented by man, according to US President Thomas Jefferson, and proven to work effectively for over 226 years in the US. Juries have been effective against the abuses of kings and rulers in the United Kingdom since the 12th century or over 800 years now.”

“Government monopoly of Justice is the basic cause of government corruption anywhere in the world. The Philippine judicial branch is a government monopoly and the weakest branch due to the absence of direct participatory deciding voting power of the Filipino people in justice. Judges and prosecutors are unshielded from political interferences for lack of juries. People participation in justice through the jury system is the basic and no other solution against government corruption. Its members, as private citizens, can decide freely and without inhibition. Their power to decide cannot be controlled by public officials because their jobs with private employers cannot be sabotaged by said officials,” he added.

I totally agree with him. We are on the same page on this one. For so long a time, I have observed the loopholes and weaknesses of our prosecutorial and judicial processes. I can still remember handling a case for a complainant-client before the City Prosecutor’s Office. The respondent, a known personality, never appeared in the preliminary investigation hearings. Based on the Department of Justice’s prosecution manual, the case should be decided based on the allegations in the complaint-affidavit. The handling prosecutor even lawyered for the absentee-respondent and concocted defenses, which were never raised by the respondent.

In another case, my client’s co-accused was being assisted by a Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) lawyer. The PAO lawyer intimated to me that the case could be “fixed” with the prosecutor. Later on I learned that that PAO lawyer eventually became a prosecutor in the City Prosecutor’s Office. Just imagine how he would decide the cases pending before him.

Well, I appreciate this one judge who was candid with a past client of mine. He said to him, “I am sorry to tell you that I have talked to the defendants already. If you have approached me earlier then I might have closed a deal with you.” Of course, we lost in the original decision. However, when we filed a motion for reconsideration, the judge granted it and reversed his previous ruling. I don’t know what my client did and I don’t want to know.

How a jury system works

Typically, there are two different juries – a grand jury and a trial jury.

A grand jury is composed of a number of civic-minded citizens (called jurors) who have chosen to work for the good of their communities by evaluating the operations of the local government units and the performance of government officials. The grand jurors are, in fact, the real agents of change.

The grand jury issues criminal indictments to require the defendants to go on trial. They determine the existence of probable cause. It investigates allegations of a public official’s corrupt or willful misconduct in office, and when warranted, files an accusation against that official. The grand jury does the work of an investigating prosecutor and that of the Ombudsman. Once there is an indictment, or accusation, from the grand jury, then the case goes on trial. The advantage here is that the indictment is a product of a collegial body (the jury) and not by a single soul (prosecutor or Ombudsman, who is susceptible to “external influence”).

A trial jury is then formed through a selection process called “voir dire” where prospective jurors are examined to determine their qualifications and suitability to serve on a jury. Once a jury is finalized, the trial can commence and the jury receives and evaluates the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense. The jury then decides to convict or acquit – on a unanimous basis. The fate of the accused now lies in the hands of several of his peers – not in the hands of a sole judge or justice.

In a jury system the role of the judge is limited to sentencing. Once a guilty verdict is handed by the jury, the judge would determine the proper sentence, as governed by prevailing statutes and applicable laws.

The trial jury is disbanded once the case on hand is disposed of. The jurors are properly compensated for their time away from their usual work. Able and qualified citizens are required to be on jury duty at least once in their lifetime.

VACC recommendations – a 10-point agenda

As mentioned earlier, the VACC will be submitting its Ten-Point Agenda on Illegal Drugs, Crime, and Corruption to the President early next week. I hope that one of my recommendations will make it to the final agenda.

First among my recommendations is for existing criminal laws (Revised Penal Code and other Special Penal Laws) to be thoroughly reviewed, properly amended and updated to be reflective of the needs of the times. Mind you, the Revised Penal Code was enacted by the Philippine Legislature way back in December 1930 and took effect on January 1932. Some of the crimes, penalties, and most of the fines therein are no longer relevant. This is the time for the House of Representatives to act and do their mandated jobs.

I also recommended to the group to include judicial system reforms in the agenda, specifically in the observance of the speedy trial clause as enshrined in Section 14 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution.

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