TURNING POINT: Dissent and the Old Roman Justice System

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/08 August) — Nothing is absolutely wrong with a senate’s probe of the extrajudicial executions and vigilante killings occurring daily under the present dispensation. President Duterte himself has time and again declared that the campaign against the drug menace should be pursued within the bounds of law. So why should Sen. Leila de Lima, the Senate justice committee chair, be vehemently opposed and pulled down by the President’s men in her planned probe on the escalating killing of suspected criminals and innocent victims obtaining throughout the country every day?

For doing her task, de Lima is vilified, portrayed to the public as protector and coddler of drug personalities. The rabid minions of the President in the social media picked up the de Lima demolition campaign fabricating and circulating blatant lies; photo-shopped her hobnobbing with alleged drug lords, all aimed to destroy her reputation and credibility to conduct the probe. (If it is now a crime to be seen with a suspected criminal, then why the absence of public uproar over the audience and photo opportunity of Peter Lim with Pres. Duterte, who the President himself earlier tagged as a big drug lord under the protection of some PNP generals?)

This disturbing development is a dark blotch to our supposed march towards transparent and responsible governance to improve the Filipino quality of life.

It appears that the present administration wants everybody to toe the line so as to speed up the realization of the agenda of change. People with opposing or different views on the current state of affairs, are threatened and bashed by rabid minions of the political leadership to cow them to silence and submission.

Those in government should be reminded that unless the road is paved towards a dictatorship regime, legitimate dissent should be respected, allowed and secured. The Constitution guarantees the citizens’ freedom of expression. At institutional level, it mandates Congress to conduct investigation in aid of legislation. This ought not to be forfeited by any means if only to uphold check and balance in governance, especially in the exercise of the Executive Department of its functions and responsibilities.

A Senate or congressional probe on the bloody campaign against the drug menace is imperative.

Consider this. The primary casualties of the drug war are sadly the poor and defenseless suspects who are summarily executed most likely to silence them once and for all from exposing their main pushers and coddlers which may include police officers who possibly recycled and marketed confiscated drugs through the now salvaged victims. The wanton execution of suspects without due process leaves the big culprits scot-free. On the other hand, the rich and well-connected, like the drug kingpin, Peter Lim, identified no less by the President of the Republic based, accordingly, on impeccable information from intelligence agencies under his control, was even allowed audience with him, advised to clear himself with the law enforcing authorities, thus given due process, a day in court. This is double standard justice, clear and simple.

Incidentally, if there is, accordingly, no sufficient evidence against Peter Lim as a drug lord, how goes the PNP Generals who were shamed by the President as Lim’s protectors?

It’s not only that we have a double standard of justice, our justice system has also retrogressed to the ancient Roman operating principle of justice where the accused is presumed guilty unless he is able to prove his innocence. The burden of proof lies not on the accuser but on the accused. The system is oppressive and is highly prone to abuse by the unscrupulous.

In our damaged and corrupted culture, the Roman justice is always advantageous to the rich and well connected. His final evidence is his wealth, influence and connection. On the other hand, the poor accused, as what is obtaining now, is not even given the opportunity to prove his innocence but is directly convicted and executed with no qualms at all.

The suppression of legitimate dissent and the retrogression of our justice system to that of the ancient Roman system long ago discarded by civilized societies are a death knell to democracy.

Where are we going from here? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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