When the government does a citizen wrong


One of today’s columnists writes about Joanne Urbina, who was in the news recently for the worst possible reason.

Urbina was the victim of a huge miscarriage of justice, and the government is clearly at fault. She was detained for five years without facing any charges. Happily for her, she was recently released. But this does not change the fact that she lost five years of her life due to the horrible inefficiency of the country’s legal system.

To make a long story short, she was accused of possessing the illegal drug shabu, which may have been planted on her person by the authorities. The illegal drug she allegedly had was in a large enough quantity to merit a life sentence. If she were guilty.

And herein lies the rub. Urbina should have been charged soon after she was arrested if there were a strong enough case against her.

This did not happen. We can understand if she had been belatedly charged by a few days, or even a few weeks. A few months would have been disturbing enough, but five years?

Certainly she was wronged by the system, and now must live with the consequences.

What’s wrong with this picture? In a word, plenty.

For one, whoever is primarily at fault should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Perhaps five years of incarceration would provide poetic justice, but we know this is not likely to be the case. The piece written by our columnist identifies the prosecutor who bears much of the guilt. That prosecutor should not just be suspended, but removed and charged.

A century or so ago, he would have been tarred and feathered.

If that inefficient prosecutor cannot be jailed, then he should at least be made to pay for the time that Urbina lost. His salary equivalent to five years of work should be remitted to the victim.

More than this, the state must do whatever can be done to make amends with Urbina. In some countries, wrongfully imprisoned persons are substantially compensated by the state. This is what Urbina deserves. Again, she has lost five years of her life, and by some accounts her means of livelihood appears to require that she maintain her youthful appearance. No doubt, she has aged considerably more than the half decade she spent under arrest.

It is not only the time that she lost. For all intents and purposes, her reputation has also been torn to shreds. Some will never believe she was innocent and will say that she deserved to be incarcerated sans charges because she was somehow involved with illegal drugs.

Such folk do not accept the concept of every accused being deemed innocent until proven guilty.

Urbina’s sad tale also includes the fact that she has lost what few material possessions she had prior to her arrest. Now heavily in debt, she is in desperate, dire straits.

Perhaps a good Samaritan or two out there can provide her the funds she needs to start her life anew. For now, her immediate need is to find gainful employment. Hopefully, she can find a job where her being held without charges for five years will not be an issue.

What makes her case so bothersome is that Joanne Urbina is obviously not a wealthy person. Because she could not afford the services of a decent lawyer, and because there was no one to take the cudgels for her, she simply accepted her fate.

It is when poor people like her are victimized by the system that they can turn to the communist movement for succor. It is because of the Joanne Urbinas of the world that the underground movement continues to thrive. Since it is the government that did her wrong, who else can she turn to in order to receive the justice that she deserves?

The bigger question should be, how many more Joanne Urbinas are there out there? How many innocent Filipinos are being held without charges being filed against them? It is not an impossible thought that there may be hundreds, if not thousands, of poor and gullible people languishing in detention facilities because they are not aware of their rights.

Before the case of one young woman detained for five years without charges becomes a global cause celebre, the government, specifically the Department of Justice, should do what is necessary to make sure there is no repeat of this sad incident. Ever.

To repeat, Urbina must be compensated somehow for her loss of income and loss of reputation for what was essentially the fault of one incompetent prosecutor. And the holes in the system that caused this travesty of justice must be plugged ASAP.


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  1. no wonder why a lot of Filipinos are adamant to go back home for good when they’ve reached retirement age. They’ve found a second homeland where they feel safe with organized govt and problems are solved fairly and most civilized way.

  2. That’s not new ! being detain in the PHL. jail with no idea why or how long the confinement be was inherent. Why now being brought to realization? It has been the norm and poor Filipino accepted it I wonder why.