Our ‘ONLY in the Philippines’ brand of justice
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo
Inq7.net 2006-01-16
Any company caught paying "revolutionary tax" to communist insurgents will be charged with rebellion, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez warned in an INQ7 report filed by Tetch Torres on December 30, 2005. Gonzalez was further quoted as saying: “If they do not want to be charged with rebellion, they have to inform the authorities every time the rebels are harassing them to pay the revolutionary tax."
I could not believe this when I first caught the item in the news ticker of GMA Network’s 24 Oras. It was only after I read the more detailed report of Tetch Torres on INQ7 that I realized it had all been another outbreak of Gonzalez’s strain of foot-in-mouth disease.

The idea of referring to Raul Gonzalez as Justice Secretary ties my intestines in knots. It is the same feeling of nausea that I have in having to address Madame Gloria M. Arroyo President of the Republic of the Philippines. In my mind and in my heart, I have difficulty reconciling the image and label mismatch of a justice secretary who has a distorted sense of justice and a president who I know (and who most Filipinos know) had not been duly elected.

In case the irony of Raul Gonzalez’ newly invented rule escaped you, his threat took the sting and venom of a double-edged sword. Even as businessmen had already suffered from double taxation, they now face penalties for doing so and are now the new victims of the very government which had failed to protect them.

No sane businessman will ever want to pay taxes to rebels on top of what is already squeezed out of him by the government. Isn’t it such a gross injustice to our entrepreneurs and investors that while the add-on cost of paying rebels dents their bottom lines, they also have to live with the curse of not ever knowing where or how their taxes paid to government have been spent? So why can’t government even accord due attention to securing businessmen against extortion and threats, considering that they make up the backbone of our economy?

It is common knowledge that communism and its anti-capitalist and radical standpoint are anathema to business. To threaten the businessman who is forced to pay “revolutionary taxes” with a rebellion charge not only adds insult to injury—it also penalizes the victim. That, of course, gives you a glimpse into the mind and judgment of Raul Gonzalez which all adds up to his expanding collage of bizarre actions.

How many times in the recent past has Gonzalez, as justice secretary, threatened to file sedition charges against those who testified unfavorably against his queen, Madame Gloria M. Arroyo? If he had detached himself briefly from his royal fixation, he would have had enough sense to realize that he serves people and country. He would have taken these witnesses into protective custody as potential purveyors of truth and justice. Instead, he bullies them into silence. So how can we not end up concluding that Gonzalez does not care an iota about the interests of the nation and the taxpayers who pay his salary but he certainly cares about protecting Madame Gloria M. Arroyo.

Compelling businessmen to report extortion at the risk of being charged with rebellion is way off the mark for Gonzalez to impose. The CPP-NPA is no ordinary extortion syndicate that can be rounded up at the instance of a complaint. The CPP-NPA has far greater presence and muscle than the most vicious crime syndicates and they are quite capable of exacting severe reprisals on those who squeal on them.

The fact that this mode of “taxation” has been going on for over 20 years convinces the businessman that one squealer will not make a difference. What is worse is that the spotty record of the military and the police in containing the rebellion does not assure the whistleblower of protection against an expected vicious reprisal.

On the same edition of the 24 Oras newscast that I saw, there was yet another sampling of law and justice, Philippine-style. It involved an episode at the police station where policemen had allowed a female complainant of estafa to assault the alleged suspect, another female, under their custody. Our friend, Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson brought the complainant to the police station to confirm the charges against the suspect. It appears that the female suspect had enticed her supposed victims into entrusting expensive jewelry by invoking the name of Chavit as her buyer.

Chavit’s intention was to identify the accused, encourage other victims to come out and thus clear his name. There is no issue with what Chavit did. He was well within his right to want to clear his name. Chavit said he was told that many had been victimized and that he was being falsely implicated in the alleged sting operation.

What was wrong with the picture was that the police had nonchalantly looked on as the victim/complainant obviously primed herself for attack. They then continued to look on as the complainant approached to strike the accused with such force and impunity—that the blow caused the suspect to hit her head on the sharp edge of the elevated police desk. The news video clearly showed the intent of the complainant long before she struck and the police can’t say they did not see it coming.

This is not the first time I have seen on TV news this sort of savagery and lawlessness taking place before supposed law enforcers. When this happens in civilized societies, the policemen on the scene are usually meted administrative sanctions. After all, the accused has not yet been formally charged. Even in cases where a conviction has already been made, the court has the sole right to determine the punishment in accordance with what is legally prescribed. The victim of the criminal act has no right to exact his own personal retribution.

“Vengeance is mine” said the Lord, as we learned from religion. We learn from the tenets of a civilized society that abides by the rule of law that penalty is for the state to impose.
Incidents like this recent assault in the police station tend to confirm the impression that our police have the knack for behaving as judge, jury and executioner, all rolled into one. When the police allow these to happen right in their own station, that tells you that they have already judged one party as guilty and worse—that they subscribe to the ‘eye for an eye’ thinking which is not part of the rule of law.

By and large, penal statutes are meant to be mechanisms for correction and reform and not vengeance. The objective of the penal statutes is to reform deviant behavior and not to exact Shylock’s pound of flesh.

It is not a question of whether we commiserate with the victims or not. Of course, we do. It is a sick mind that will sympathize with the criminal in a rape case or the massacre of an entire family. But to allow ‘an eye for an eye’ to be the measure of justice is to return to the era of savage and endless reprisals and wars even. Justice institutions were precisely created in order to maintain peace and order in the country.

In these two instances that happened on just one slightly wet Rizal Day, we Filipinos have reason to be worried and concerned because our supposed Justice Secretary and policemen seem to be the very anti-thesis of the rule of law. We have a justice secretary who would criminalize a victim’s helpless act of giving in to revolutionary extortion and policemen who play judge on cases that have not yet been tried!

ONLY in the Philippines!

You may email William M. Esposo at: w_esposo@yahoo.com

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