Judicial reforms, certainty of punishment best move vs crimes – Atty. Chel Diokno

Atty. Chel Diokno speaks at the National Media Forum in Davao City on Nov. 17, 2018. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 19 Nov.) – Reforming the judiciary and ensuring the certainty of punishment is the best way to address the problem of illegal drugs and other crimes, a human rights lawyer told participants to a media forum in Davao City on Saturday.

Lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group said the severity of punishment like resorting to extrajudicial killings won’t deter crimes.

“Killing all drug suspects on the street won’t solve the problem. The only solution is to identify the syndicates and put them in jail,” Diokno said.

He said the war on drugs is not just against the poorest of the poor but has also become a means to silence the political opposition and to conceal the shortcomings of the country’s justice system.

Diokno was apparently alluding to Senator Leila de Lima, who stands accused of protecting drug lords and is now in jail awaiting trial. The senator is a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Diokno said among the problems confronting the judiciary is the lack of judges, noting that 20 percent of trial courts are vacant.

He added there are only a few trial lawyers because many find it more lucrative to engage in corporate lawyering.

He said the lack of judges and delay in trials have resulted in jail congestion.

“The country has the highest jail congestion rate in the world,” he said.

He urged a review of the compensation for judges to attract qualified lawyers aside from doing away with politics involved in appointing judges and prosecutors as well.

He further noted that only about two percent of the national budget goes to the judiciary.

Diokno, however, said the administration is obsessed with “hiding the real problems with fake news” which he said is “organized, well-funded and supported by government.”

Quoting former Czech president Vaclav Havel, Diokno said, “Truth no longer shapes governance, governance shapes the truth.

He added some laws pertaining to the judiciary must be changed, for example, the prohibition on the Ombudsman to investigate members of the bench.

He also urged the judiciary to be more transparent with the use of its budget, in particular the Judicial Development Fund (JDF).

The JDF was created in 1985 through Presidential Decree No. 1949, “for the benefit of the members and personnel of the judiciary to help ensure and guarantee the independence of the judiciary as mandated by the Constitution and public policy and required by the impartial administration of justice.”

Diokno cited the case filed against the suspects in the Ampatuan Massacre as a glaring example of the country’s defective justice system.

Children of victims of the Ampatuan Massacre sing a song calling for justice at the site of the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre in Sitio Masalay, Salman, Amtapuan town in Maguindanao on Nov. 18, 2018. She was just 10 years old when the massacre that killed her mother and 57 other people occurred. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

He said that with so many suspects being line up resulting in prolonged trial “mawawala mga testigo (the witnesses will disappear).”

“Yong mga responsable talaga ang dapat unahin, saka na habulin ang iba (those primarily responsible should be dealt with first, and then go after the rest) to simplify the case,” he said.

Melinda Quintos de Jesus, director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the case was “designed to fail” due to the number of suspects identified by the prosecution.

She said there are 118 suspects including former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan, his father, the late Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and brother Andal Ampatuan Jr..

The massacre, which occurred on 23 November 2009 in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao killed 58 people, 32 of them media workers.

Then Buluan Vice Mayor and now third-term Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu sent his wife Genalyn and other family members to Shariff Aguak town to file his certificate of candidacy for governor. The media workers went with the convoy to cover the event.

Mangudadatu’s candidacy pitted him against Andal Jr. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)