POSTSCRIPT / July 23, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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The judge, not only law, must also be on your side

KIDNAPPERS and robbers seem to be taunting President Estrada, the crime-buster in presidential barong. There has been a rash of kidnapping, with victims usually moneyed Chinoys, and even daring ambushes of bank armored cars.

Mr. Estrada’s fighting words against organized crime at his inaugural are still ringing in our ears: “Huwag ninyo akong subukan!” (Don’t you try me!)

Question: Are the resurgent kidnappings and robberies for real, perpetrated by the legit (?) underworld — or are they being managed by interest groups to create a climate for some agenda?

Are the daring crimes being staged to embarrass the new President on his promise to stop crime? Or is an administration operator systematically sowing terror to wear down public objection to the creation of a super presidential commission against organized crime?

Until the perpetrators are caught and their cases analyzed by an independent group, we may never know the answers to these questions.

* * *

ANYWAY, with high-profile crimes exploding here and there, President Estrada brushed aside objections and went ahead this week to create the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, a recharged reincarnation of the anti-crime commission he had headed under President Ramos.

The main deviation from his original plan was his naming himself chairman, instead of his niño bonito Chief Supt. Panfilo Lacson. But the controversial police general will lead still the commission’s 1,000-strong task force that will seek out and destroy crime syndicates.

Lacson’s 1,000-strong force draws from the cream of the police, the armed forces, and the national bureau of investigation.

Another innovation is the appointment to the commission of four prominent citizens, all anti-crime crusaders, obviously to allay public concern that the commission’s operatives might resort to legal shortcut, including violation of human rights, just to get their quarry.

In six months, the President promised, we would see results. So, tabi muna tayo while Lacson swings into action.

* * *

ON another front, Mr. Estrada has lowered the level of his threatening one-liners against Richard Gordon, the rebel chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Administration.

Earlier he warned that he might have Gordon bodily ejected if he continued to barricade himself in his Subic office despite the naming of a new chairman. Now the President is simply saying that the court’s ruling was being awaited.

Good move. In the first place, the case is already with the Court of Appeals, where Gordon ran when he failed to get a restraining order from the new Olongapo judge. The President should at least pretend to respect a co-equal branch of government.

Secondly, it is bad form for the President to tangle with a lowly official in the liberty town of Olongapo. He should do less talking and leave to his errand boys the task of chasing Gordon out of the former US naval base.

Thirdly, Malacañang may just lose the case eventually and it is best that the presidential face is not in the line of fire when (if) that happens.

* * *

MY saying that the Palace may just lose the case does not really mean much, because it is just as facile to say that it is Gordon who may lose in the end.

Let me just point out for those who are still uninitiated in justice Philippine-style that:

  • The law is not what you think it is, or what your lawyer claims it is. The law is what the court (the judge) says it is.
  • To win a court case, therefore, it is not enough that the law is on your side. The judge must also be on your side.
  • On whose side the judge is depends on many, sometimes millions of, things. If you know what I mean.

Gordon was able to get earlier a restraining order from the first Olongapo judge who heard his petition. So they changed the judge.

As expected, the new judge — based on the same facts, the same law, the same petition — handed down an exactly opposite decision denying Gordon’s petition for a restraining order.

We repeat: It is not enough that the law is on your side. The judge must be also.

If the judge is not on your side, have him changed or you move to another court. Gordon moved to the Court of Appeals instead of asking for reconsideration.

In addition, Gordon got former Senator Rene Saguisag to represent him instead of his previous lawyers who looked and sounded like fresh law graduates. Choice of lawyer is sometimes crucial, because lawyers are not created equal.

* * *

TALKING of lawyers, it seems the highly paid lawyers of the unions at Philippine Airlines are still holding sway in the worsening feud between PAL unions and management.

The labor lawyers appear to have succeeded in convincing the other unions in the airline, aside from the pilots’ union that earlier staged a strike, to also go on strike.

In the beginning, the retirement by management of a senior pilot served as the casus belli for the pilots’ walking out. As a result of the debilitating strike, PAL dove and had to retrench 5,000 other employees to keep the downsized airline flying.

With the ouster of the 5,000 workers, the other unions have just gone on strike. Thousands of passengers who were not warned of the work stoppage were stranded in various airports.

Don’t be surprised if businessman Lucio Tan, the controlling stockholder, decides to close the troublesome airline and prevent further massive losses.

Trying to save one, then 5,000 jobs, the union lawyers may just lose altogether the employment of the more than 15,000 workers whose interests they are supposed to protect.

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