PRESIDENT Duterte was apparently acting on his “highest sense of duty” when in a speech on the 69th anniversary of the Philippine Air Force the other day he named five police “generals” allegedly involved in the dangerous drugs trade. This created instant headlines, but left some questions unanswered about procedural and substantive due process.
Having made the fight against illegal drugs one of his top priorities, and having all the resources of his office and the support of the public to go after any suspect, the President could have easily quietly ordered sufficient evidence to be gathered against the suspects, and had them charged and arrested, if warranted, before announcing their names to the public. But what happened was the exact opposite.
Saying the five high police officials have contributed to the “deterioration of peace and order in the country,” he identified them as follows: “General Marcelo Garbo, he was a protector of the drug syndicates in the country; General Vicente Loot, who is now the mayor of one of the municipalities of Cebu; General Diaz, the former director general of Region 11; General Pagdilao, former director general of NCRPO; General Tinio, former QCPD director.”
And then he asked the National Police Commission to investigate. “I would like to talk to them, but certainly I would like the police commission to talk to them. Imbestigahin ninyo ito at huwag ninyo akong bigyan ng zarzuela—(investigate this and don’t give me a farce),” he said.
So the ball is now on Napolcom’s court. No formal charges have been filed against the five, but trial by publicity could be more damaging than a court trial, in which the prosecution must prove the charges, and the accused be presumed innocent until his guilt is proved. With the President and Commander-in-Chief making the accusation, what are the chances of the five?
Guilty until proved otherwise?
The President has presented no evidence—“no smoking gun” to speak of—but the common perception on the ground is that he would not have named names if he did not have hard evidence.
So the accused must now prove their innocence.
How does Napolcom deal with this? Anything less than a formal indictment of the five would be dismissed as a “zarzuela” by the President, and perhaps even by the public.
Still, even if the five or any of them prove to be as guilty as hell, the inversion of the process—in which the President’s conclusion of guilt precedes the actual investigation of the parties—may have already unduly damaged due process. It could weaken rather than strengthen the courts and our investigating agencies might now await signals from Malacañang on who or how to investigate or prosecute.
In fact, we should be disturbed when we read about high PNP officials saying the President “will name more rogue cops.” This is absurd. The police officers should be the ones naming the rogue elements to the President, and the latter acting merely on their reports. It now looks like the President is about to become the “chief informant” of the police. This is nonsense.
No generals involved
The President is not free from mistakes. In fact, in his speech to the Air Force, he made an unfortunate slip in describing the identity of the offending parties. He called them “generals,” and his military audience could not help but react, even in a muted way, to his unfortunate use of that rank. “General” is reserved only for the military; there are no “police generals.” The Philippine National Police is a civilian organization whose highest official and head carries the rank of “Director General,” equivalent to the military rank of a full-fledged General.
Director General is also the rank of the highest official of the National Economic and Development Authority next to the President, who is its actual head. A brigadier general in the military is equivalent to Chief Superintendent in the police.
Unfortunately, none of the news writers, news editors and editorial writers, who presumably know all this, bother to point it out.
So what happens now? Of course Napolcom would investigate. But just as the Mamasapano inquiries under President Aquino could not produce results that went against his declared position and perceived interests, this investigation cannot possibly produce results that would contradict the President, even if they may not be entirely convinced he is right.
Let us hope though that while the investigation is ongoing, the police could thoroughly cleanse their ranks of rogue elements involved in illegal drugs and other crimes. And let us hope that because they see how earnest the President is in his anti-drugs and criminality drive, the guilty would finally own up to their crimes and be prepared to say that they were charged and tried without being denied their rights to due process.
There must be a definitive change in the way justice is administered under DU30 from the way it was under B.S. Aquino 3rd. Even our criminals have a role to play in this.
Our constitutional conundrum
With so many groups pushing federalism to drown the clamor for constitutional change, very few seem to see that the problem area is not the unitary system but our presidential form of government. I will not go into any elaborate discussion of this here. But we have just elected a President who belongs to one party and a Vice President (although her election is under protest) who belongs to another. This would never have happened if our Constitution had provided that a vote for the President is also a vote for the Vice President, and vice versa, as is the case in the United States.
What happened here is that we copied the presidential system from the US, but decided to improve upon it. So while trying to construct a horse, we produced a camel.
In the last elections, we had more vice-presidential candidates than presidential candidates, and many of them running as independent. Our voters found Alan Cayetano unfit to be elected with Rody DU30, and Robredo more palatable than Mar. So we ended with PDP-Laban’s DU30 as President and LP’s Leni Robredo as Vice President. And because of this, we have a problem larger than DU30’s or Leni’s.
But not too many people seem to see it. But this is one reason why I say if we are going to revise the Constitution, we should start by reexamining the presidential system before the unitary system.
What to do with Leni
We have the next six years to talk about DU30, so for now let’s talk about Leni. She has one serious problem. She does not know what to do. Although her election is under protest from Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos, Jr. at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (which means the Supreme Court en banc), she is the highest official “elected” under the Liberal Party. This was the ruling party under Aquino; but with PDP-Laban’s DU30’s victory, it is now the opposition party.
Majority of the LP members have now migrated to PDP-Laban, creating problems of living space (lebensraum) in that previously three-member party. But the LP as such remains in the minority. With the defeated LP presidential candidate Mar Roxas going under the radar after the elections, and LP Senate President Franklin Drilon joining the PDP-led Senate coalition under a new PDP-Laban Senate President on July 25, the LP leadership is now in limbo. Thus, Leni Robredo has been offered a chance to lead the party.
A great opportunity
But she has declined, citing her lack of experience and preparedness for the job. She merely wants to “support” the President, and will most probably accept a Cabinet post, if offered any. There is an obvious lobby to get her that, from the way the media talk of her being “deprived” of such a post, as though she was entitled to it by right.
But why should DU30 give her any? She is not a member of his party, and bringing her into the Cabinet would create a second “pole” of political power with independent support from a rival party, whose original “Plan B” was to impeach him in order to catapult her to the presidency.
Doing a Macapagal?
Her best shot—as some sympathizers have suggested—is to imitate Diosdado Macapagal, GMA’s father, who as President Carlos P. Garcia’s Vice President from 1957 to 1961, spent his entire term going around the country attending fiestas and delivering pep talks, having no Cabinet duties to perform. In 1961, he ran against Garcia and beat him in his bid for reelection. Leni could try to do the same, in preparation for the 2022 presidential election, if we do not abandon the presidential form of government.
But—and it is a big but—if she is not even prepared to lead her own political party, how could she ever think of wanting to become President? Moreover, given the pending electoral protest against her, which many seem to believe is not without sound legal and electoral basis, she could lose her seat before the six-year term is over.
Probing her husband’s death
There is one thing she can do, though. And this could be truly meaningful for herself and the nation. She could initiate a definitive inquiry into the death of her late husband, the former Secretary of Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo, who died in a plane crash off Masbate island on Aug. 18, 2012. Not a few people, including one saintly priest, are convinced the plane crash, in which one person survived, was the result of foul play and that Robredo was intentionally killed for some mysterious reason.
Aquino’s efforts to lionize Robredo with all sorts of honors and decorations after his death, including finally his move to make his widow Leni the Vice President, were attempts to cover up the dark deed against him, on top of Aquino’s own failure to give him his due as DILG Secretary. Under the law, the DILG has jurisdiction over the police and (nominally) over local governments, but Robredo was denied supervision over the police, which Aquino gave instead to Rico Puno, the DILG undersecretary and his own shooting buddy.
According to uncontested reports, Puno’s immediate action upon Robredo’s plane crash, before his body was recovered three days later, was to have the late secretary’s condo unit in Metro Manila thoroughly searched. It was not known what they were looking for, and what they found there, if any.
Provoking aninquiry into Aquino
A deep inquiry into this death would create a precedent, which the government could follow. One such death is Ninoy Aquino’s. To this day, the nation remains in the dark about the brains of his Aug. 21, 1983 assassination, which shocked the world. The knee-jerk attempt to blame it on Marcos, like the attempt to blame the 1971 communist bombing of Plaza Miranda on him, has been totally discredited by the fact that he was the first one to suffer its fatal consequences, and he was much too intelligent to engineer his own destruction and ignominy. The real culprit could probably be identified by asking the question, cui bono?—who benefits?—and this has not been examined sufficiently.
For the strangest of reasons, neither Ninoy’s widow Cory tried to have the matter investigated during her six and a half years as President, nor his son Noynoy, during his six years from June 30, 2010 to June 30, 2016. But the Filipino nation deserves to have a more complete knowledge of its history. This is one service Leni could perform while she awaits her fate in the vice presidency.