Even Hitler was entitled to have a fair trial
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-05-31

There is a very basic principle of justice and the rule of law that has been grossly overlooked in the raging debate surrounding the ethics case that was filed against top Opposition presidential candidate, Senator Manny Villar. And that principle is the right of the accused – any accused – to a fair trial.

A fair trial is not just the granting of the opportunity to the accused to refute charges and present counter evidence. The more important aspect of a fair trial is that the judge (or the jurors) has no personal interest, affinity, bias and so forth that would tend to favor one party and disadvantage the other.

It is this principle that compels judges to inhibit from trying a case where even just a hint of conflict of interest or personal relationship with one contending party can be perceived. The honest judge inhibits even if the expressed concern is flimsy in order to protect the credibility of the judicial process and preserve the people’s trust in the rule of law.

Had Adolf Hitler been captured alive by the Allied Forces at the end of World War II in Europe, he too would have been entitled to have a fair trial. Regardless of the gravity of his crimes against humanity, Hitler would have been entitled to be heard by an unbiased tribunal – one that has not prejudged the decision before weighing the evidence.

Some folks, apparently not the majority of Filipinos, are misled by the political rhetoric of the proponents of the ethics case against Senator Manny Villar (most notably Senators Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal) that Villar should be man enough to face the issue. It is not a question of a lack of courage on the part of Villar to face his accusers that is the issue – but the existence of clear conflict of interest in many of those who will judge him.

In many countries where despots hold rigged elections, the Opposition boycotts the process and this decision is generally supported by other countries who accept that boycott is the appropriate reaction to such a tainted process. The same principle applies when an accused sees that his jurors are heavily saddled with vested interest to want to convict him.

In this ethics case against Villar, you don’t just detect a hint of bias or conflict of interest. The bias and conflict of interest scream at you.

Whereas the honest judge will inhibit from trying a case if only because of a hint of a possible conflict of interest – Villar’s presidential rivals (with all the glaring evidence of personal bias and conflict of interest) cannot even muster the decency to inhibit from judging him.

If you were in Villar’s shoes, can you hope for a fair trial from the likes of presidential rivals who have already collaborated to oust you as Senate President? If you were in Villar’s shoes, will you not be alarmed that your accuser in this ethics case, Senator Jamby Madrigal, is also sitting as your juror?

Even the so-called ‘Kangaroo Courts’ do not allow that in order to maintain an appearance of impartiality. This Senate Committee of the Whole cannot even present the appearance of a ‘Kangaroo Court’ which disallows the accuser to sit as juror.

In fact, Madrigal best exemplifies the brand of “fairness” to be expected from this ethics case trial. Although what she has filed against Villar is simply an ethics case, Madrigal has categorically accused Villar of corruption, plunder and stealing billons of the people’s money last May 26 during the meeting of the Senate Committee of the Whole.

Madrigal said: “The issue here is corruption; the issue here is not history or Martial Law. The issue here is not name-calling. The issue here, and as complainant I will say, is the graft and corruption that I have unearthed and I believe has been committed by Senator Villar in an unprecedented scale. It is not P200 million we’re talking about. We shall prove when the evidence is shown that Senator Villar has committed extreme plunder to the tune of billions of pesos of the people’s money.”

Remember that as an ethics case – the issue centers on whether Villar violated the conflict of interest principle for pushing for the C-5 Extension Road that served his constituents in Las Pinas City. The conflict of interest issue emanates from lands Villar’s companies own in the area where the C-5 Extension Road will pass.

Corruption, plunder, stealing billions of the people’s money – as Madrigal alleged – does not constitute the substance of an ethics case. Madrigal should be going to the courts if that indeed is her case and not present it to an ethics body.

We must wonder why Madrigal and Lacson do not bring their case to the trial courts. Being with the Opposition, Villar does not enjoy having any influence in the justice system.

Is it because they know that they do not really have a case in much the same way that they failed to prove their “Double Insertion” allegation when it was investigated in the Senate Finance Committee?

Is it because they know that in a trial court, they will be exposed as charlatans who are merely conducting a political demolition of the top Opposition presidential candidate? Is it because they know that even a crooked judge will find it hard to convict the accused party if there is no evidence?

Is it because they know that in the Senate, they have other allies who stand to benefit if Villar’s presidential bid is derailed and so numbers, not legality or morality, will prevail?

Doesn’t Madrigal’s statement betray their real objective in this ethics case which is to conduct a political theatre where Villar can be placed in the worst possible light?

Julius Caesar, with all the stab wounds that the Roman Senators inflicted on his torso, will not compare with the stabs that Villar can expect from his envious Senate peers. Even Jesus Christ had a fairer judge in Pontius Pilate — who really tried to release the Nazarene — than Villar’s presidential rivals in the Senate can be expected to be.

We all know how important the presidency is to the political and economic interests of the elite in our country. Political and economic interests rise and fall here with presidential candidates.

We also know how integrity — assuming our politicians still have it — is easily compromised on the altar of the demands of presidential politics. How many deep personal friendships and trusts have been betrayed because of the need to side with a perceived winning presidential candidate?

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