POSTSCRIPT / May 8, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Binay untouchable just because he's Opposition?

CONDITIONING: There is a basic, and dangerous, flaw in the way some people regard the cases of Makati Mayor Jojo Binay over his handling of public funds and possible suspension.

Through adroit propaganda, many people have been conditioned to believe that Binay is being prosecuted by the Office of the Ombudsman because he is an Opposition leader.

The facts do not bear this out. The mayor is not being investigated or prosecuted for being with the Opposition. There is no such offense or crime in the books.

The complaints against him and his wife Elenita arise from their alleged mishandling of millions in public funds.

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IRRELEVANT: Having received the complaints, the Ombudsman has no choice but to investigate and, when warranted, file the proper charges. Preventive suspension is part of the due process.

Binay’s being with the Opposition is irrelevant. His party affiliation is not at issue, although he is mightily trying to make it the focal point.

If an official has committed an offense punishable under the law, he should be penalized whether he is with the Opposition, the Administration or whatever group is sheltering him.

We might as well erase all penal provisions in statutes and administrative codes — if we always have to stop prosecution every time the respondent invokes his membership in the Opposition.

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SEEKING SHELTER: Haven’t you noticed? Everybody who appears to be in trouble or is expecting prosecution for some wrongdoing is running for public office.

Aside from Binay, there are (ticking them off at random without regard for their partisan color) Garci, Honasan, Chavit, Trillanes, to name a few prominent ones.

Public office has become a haven, a shelter, a protective shield, for some people anticipating legal problems.

With his wealth piling up in seeming disproportion to his legitimate income, Binay knew that sooner or later he would be asked to explain.

It was smart of him to have taken a preemptive high-profile anti-administration stance and cultivated an image as an opposition stalwart.

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DEFENSE LINE: So now when prosecutors run after him, Binay cries he is being harassed for being an Opposition leader.

As a lawyer, he knows that his partisan affiliation is not an extenuating circumstance, but he puts that up as his first line of public defense.

And it seems to work — in oppositionist Metro Manila. (Try using that political argument to answer an indictment in Washington, DC, and see where that will take you.)

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ALL OR NONE?: Another favorite argument of his lawyer-friends is that Binay is being singled out for selective prosecution. They ask: “Why only him?”

That lame argument seems to work, because many mentally challenged people within ten miles of Malacanang have been conditioned to think that the Administration cannot do right and is bent on wiping out the Opposition.

But do we stop the prosecution of a rapist (or a robber, a murderer, a swindler, or a plunderer), if we cannot prosecute ALL rapists (or robbers, murderers, swindlers, or plunderers)? Is prosecution an all-or-no-one proposition a la Fred Lim’s dictum?

Must we make it a requirement or insert it into the Rules of Court that an Opposition stalwart cannot be prosecuted unless an equivalent character from the Administration is also prosecuted for a similar offense?

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SET EXAMPLE: I am not saying that Binay is guilty of anything. Despite the proffered evidence of the complainants, he might just turn out to be innocent.

But we will not know until the charges are filed and he is tried in the proper forum.

It is important for him and our justice system that he be investigated and prosecuted if the evidence calls for it.

He should ask for, and be given, his day in court. He and his cohorts cannot stop or frustrate the process by raising their fists and shouting “Opposition ini!”

Aside from being a lawyer and an officer of the law, Binay is a public official. He is expected to set a good example and to submit to public accountability as enshrined in the Constitution.

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WRONG TIMING?: Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno is holding in abeyance the order of the Ombudsman for Binay’s preventive suspension.

Puno and several others talk of “wrong timing” — meaning, I suppose, that Binay’s suspension close to the May 14 polls might just boost his election chances and bring down the entire administration slate.

Electoral repercussions are irrelevant. Must the Office of the Ombudsman close shop during the election period or suspend the normal processes for controversial politicians?

On the contrary, the Constitution speaks solemnly of equal protection of the law. Why is Binay suddenly more equal than others? Because he is Opposition?

If so, then all officials who fear being asked to explain how they had amassed m(b)illions or (mis)handled public funds should rush their oath of affiliation with the Opposition – to enjoy Binay-type immunity.

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HIGH COURT: If the question of preventive suspension is raised before the Supreme Court, will the tribunal rule only on the basis of the law? Will it simply apply the law, as it should, and keep politics outside the door?

Will the High Court leave the appreciation of the pertinent facts to the presumed wisdom of the Ombudsman? Or will it overreach, stoop and perform the fact-finding functions assigned to a lower court?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 8, 2007)

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