Sunday, May 9, 2021

The GCTA mess, whose fault? Never again!


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THERE is a presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions. The Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) praxis has been with us for nearly a century. Republic Act 10592 simply sought to expand its benefits.

Lawyer Michael Evangelista sued for Muntinlupa City inmates to make it retroactive in Inmates of Bilibid Prisons vs de Lima. Justice Secretary Leila was against retroactivity and has nothing to explain if the 2013 law would benefit the likes of, willy-nilly, former Calauan Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez. I intervened for the correctional inmates (27 women wrote to me for help in 2014). Michael, on whom I had piggybacked, won last June. And some dam broke.

If X is freed by the authorities and then questions bubble up, they should first review his record and not compel X to return to be caged, while his record is reviewed. He should not have to suffer for a possible error by the authorities, and threatened with consequences such as death if he doesn’t surrender by next week, with a P1-million bounty on his head, dead or alive. (Such posture scares the bejesus out of me on the plea for emergency powers to solve the traffic mess we didn’t have prior to June 30, 2016; pray tell, shoot jaywalkers and reckless drivers? Susmariano!)

Meantime, I suggest that the liberated convicts be allowed to continue moving in a wider cage in which to roam, outside the penitentiary, pending review of possible government errors, not theirs. I have long questioned the Prez’s insensitive population reduction program.

Suspend the law?
Heinous crimes convicts? X could be 20 when he broke the law but, after a decade, he rediscovers the Lord and is a changed person. Why should X not benefit from the GCTA? Prison is not only to punish forever but to reform and rehabilitate a fellow human being.


The administration will suspend the law? But, Article 239 of the Revised Penal Code states that penalties “shall be imposed upon any public officer who shall encroach upon the powers of the legislative branch of government, …by…suspending the execution” of a law. It is not the place of executive to suspend what the sovereign people, through their representatives in the Senate and House, mandate.

Certain responsible people doubt the guilt of those convicted in the Chiong sisters case in Cebu. A defense lawyer, the late highly regarded Ray Armovit, a 1954 bar topnotcher, was one of them. He told me his view of the case. The suicide of the convicting judge, a fellow Bedan, intrigues. Convict Paco Larrañaga, a Fil-Kastilaloy is now said to work in the day as chef and returns to jail at night in Christian Spain. Are we not a dominantly Christian nation too? Many of us are baptized when we are too young to object, at baptism and later, and learned core values that have stayed with us, or should have.

The Prez cannot now order the arrest of anyone as Marcos did with his notorious arrest, search and seizure orders (ASSOs). Only courts, after some preliminary investigation, may order the arrest of one who could however demand, “hit me, but hear me first!” — an ancient plaint for due process. No more Marcosian ASSOs today.

Myths of September
The other day Marcos Loyalists marked the 102nd birth anniversary of Marcos. On the basis of birth certificates certain students of mine have produced, I am convinced it should be the 103rd. He was born in 1916, not 1917, containing a fave number, seven, of numerologist Macoy. Should there be an epitaph at the “Libingan ng Mga Bayani at Iba pa,” proclaiming, “Here, a lawyer lies still”?

On another myth or superstition, not on the 21st but on the 23rd of September, did the looong daaark night begin, in 1972, to last until Feb. 25, 1986. Sept. 21, 1972 was, to me, just another day in the office, as it were. That Thursday I monitored by radio from San Beda — whose free Legal Aid Clinic I then headed as its founder on returning from abroad — a rally in Quiapo, where Ka Pepe Diokno and Charito Planas, among others, including the colorful Bal Pinguel, spoke. No need for me to go, no untoward incident. The next day, Friday, routine, likewise. Ho-hum.

But, going home from San Beda, after 8:30 p.m. that Friday night, driving my Beetle, on top of Ayala Bridge bound for the apartment we rented in Sandejas, Pasay, on radio, was the news of the supposed ambuscade of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE). The next day, Saturday, no radio-TV, no newspapers. The next day, Sunday, only the Daily Suppress, oooops, Express.

On Feb. 22, 1986, at EDSA, when JPE and his Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) boys feared being barbecued by Gen. Fabian Ver, and the end seemed near, he confessed about the spurious ambush that never was, fake news, adding that he had cheated for Marcos against Cory in Cagayan Valley by 300,000 votes. At the time he must have thought he would have to account to the Lord in hours. A deathbed confession, sort of.

The people rescued the trapped, doomed putschists in a case of welcome foreign intervention. The divine kind. Answered prayers.

Sept. 22, 1972 was when initial arrests were made towards midnight. Marcos had issued ASSOs, normally a judicial role. Taken in were Ninoy Aquino and Pepe Diokno, and many others. Proclamation 1081, which spokesman Kit Tatad, our adversary then but with whom I have since agreed on many issues, read that night, changed my life forever. I toiled as a resolute human rights lawyer, assisting countless victims or kin of “salvaged,” illegally detained, tortured, “disappeared,” hamletted, etc. victims.

Pro bono lawyering
In 1977, when military commission trials began, I joined the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) of Ka Pepe. In 1980, I co-founded Mabini, with Ka Tanny Tañada as honorary head, to take stands on national issues, but preserving our warm fraternal ties with FLAG. It remains very active today — mirabile dictu! — while we in Mabini remain as partly useful relics. (I just turned 80, with a cane for use on uneven surface. Our time is past, we’re history, maybe as a footnote, if that. Luma at kupas na talaga yata.)

Millions were at EDSA for four days of February 1986, joined by the military who, before then, were on the wrong side of the highway. RAM joined the rest of the nation, hence People Power, not Cory Power, not RAM Power, but the People’s, to the acclaim of a shocked and awed world. A virtually bloodless change of leaders seen on worldwide cable TV.

I stood with the Aquinos and a few others at EDSA from Sept. 23, 1972 until Feb. 25, 1986. Not just for four days.

Almost daily during that span, I’d be trying martial law cases from Luzon to Mindanao as a pro bono lawyer (puro abono, di po abogado, kundi abonado), earning tremendous psychic income (not accepted though as legal tender in 7-11, Jollibee, Shakey’s, Inasal or McDo). It mattered that our spouses didn’t object and even supported our efforts. In my case, no Rene Saguisag without my sorely missed Dulce, who led my 1987 Senate campaign when we spent not a single singkong duling to win. Our people could be appreciative and grateful. TY very many, haha!

If I had it to do over, deep down I know I’d still be a human rights lawyer, preferring to die on my feet than live in shame on bended knees. Here, I paraphrase Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, who also famously cried No Pasaran! — they shall not pass — the slogan of the resolute, ready to give their all for the motherland, and hang the cost and consequences.

Non, je ne regrette rien, sang Edith Piaf. No, I regret nothing. But NEVER AGAIN! If we forget the past, we may be doomed to repeat it, Jorge Santayana warned.

Still and all, I am not certain that the sins of the Marcoses should be visited on Irene, who turns 59 next week. She wasn’t even a teenager when Macoy inflicted martial misrule 47 Septembers ago, unlike Bongbong and Imee, who must have known better as the older offspring of a criminal genius. Imee occasioned the “salvaging” of Archimedes Trajano while Raissa Robles has documented Bongbong’s involvement in concealing the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.

No such strong link I have found as to Irene, who may deserve the benefit of the doubt, like the liberated convicts who have up to September 19 to surrender, or else. . . .



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