POSTSCRIPT / December 11, 2016 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Lawyers hit Du30 threats on drugs

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte kicked a hornet’s nest this week when he attacked not only drug lords, but also the lawyers defending them from charges of violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (RA 9165).

There was in the President’s remarks what sounded like a threatened reprisal against defense lawyers: “Even their lawyers, I will include them.” A former prosecutor (aka fiscal), Duterte knows how lawyers operate.

A common reaction of many lawyers was that Duterte “insulted and undermined the integrity of the legal profession, the sanctity of rule of law, the fair and effective administration of justice, the independence of the Judiciary, and the primacy of the Bill of Rights.”

We picked as representative reaction that of lawyer Manuel J. Laserna Jr. of the IBP Pasay Paranaque Las Pinas chapter whose views he had posted on Twitter. See:

Laserna even raised the possible impeachment of Duterte — which we think is unlikely, considering that the President dominates both chambers of the Congress.

Drug lords’ lawyers being targeted?

PART of Laserna’s reactions (edited to fit space) to Duterte’s remarks:

> Duterte: “That’s their style. They were able to post bail, because they have lawyers. They are good, high-profile lawyers. Then (their clients) will play again.”

Laserna: Admittedly, criminal cases filed against drug lords are capital offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua. The cases are non-bailable under RA 9165.

However, the accused, assisted by counsel, may apply for bail before the trial court, which may grant the motion when the prosecution fails to prove that “the evidence of guilt is strong.”

Section 13, Article III (Bill of Rights) provides: “All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties…. The right to bail shall not be impaired even when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended….”

> Duterte: “Even their lawyers, I will include them.”

L: This statement constitutes grave threat and grave coercion against the legal profession. It is a criminal offense. His intent is to communicate the message that he shall harm, injure, or kill lawyers who perform their oath to defend the constitutional rights of their clients.

“Betrayal of the public trust” is a ground for impeachment under Section 2 of Article XII.

Section 1, Article XI provides that “public office is a public trust,” and that “public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

Duterte’s threat and coercion violate the Code of Ethical Standards for Public Officers and Employees (RA 6713), which declares that it is State policy “to promote a high standard of ethics in public service.” and that “public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people….”

> Duterte: The people should understand the “role of law” instead of focusing only on the “rule of law.”

L: I do not know how Duterte exactly contradistinguishes “role of law” from “rule of law.” It appears that to him the “role of law” is to arrest, try, convict, and punish an accused. Nothing else.

He is wrong. The “role of law” and the “rule of law” are to insure that “justice is done” and “not to persecute” (a prostitution of prosecution). The prosecution has “the burden of proof to convict an accused, who is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.”

> Duterte: “That’s the reason why I’m angry, because it is not a simple police matter. It is an assault on my country. If you put us in a bad situation, we will come up with a failed state.”

L: The cause of the institutional failure of the Philippines as a state under the Duterte regime is not the legal profession or the criminal justice system, but Duterte himself, his creeping totalitarianism, autocracy, and Nazi-type repression and cruelty, his notorious inconsistency, dishonesty, and narcissism, and his violations of the Constitution and existing laws and jurisprudence.

He is prone to ignore Article III of the Constitutional which provides for the “independence of the Judiciary” and its “expanded power of judicial review.”

> Duterte: “What is the role of the law knowing fully well how fast we can produce a conviction? Up to the Supreme Court, how many years? While they are playing, they can give you (bail) bond, then they will (return to selling illegal drugs).”

L: Delay is a major problem in all three co-equal branches of the government, not only in the Judiciary.

The preliminary investigation of criminal cases by the National Prosecution Service under the Department of Justice, the adjudication of cases by quasi-judicial agencies, the investigation of crimes and the arrest of the accused xxx which are all under the Executive, suffer from delay.

The legislative process in Congress, from investigations in aid of legislation to the final adoption of the enrolled bills, by the two Houses, suffers from delay.

The Judiciary, whose trial courts are burdened by pending 500 to 1,500 cases per sala, is not an exception. There are about 500,000 pending cases nationwide. There around 800 trial courts that are vacant.

> Duterte: “Of course, I cannot prove my case beyond reasonable doubt. I know that. I’ve been a prosecutor for years. But to build a case, just select one. We have to assign about four or five operatives. We do not have the money and we do not have the manpower.”

L: I exhort Duterte — Obey the Bill of Rights and the Rules of Court. If you cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt your suspicions and accusations, that means you do not have well-developed cases that are enough to convict the accused.

You need to improve the professional competence and resources of your law enforcement and security agencies.

You must achieve your goal of establishing a “peace and order paradise” in the Philippines “within six months from your assumption to office.” Do you still remember your campaign promise to the Filipinos that they can “kill you” if you fail to attain your goal within six months?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 11, 2016)

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