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Broken justice system, not corruption

ONE OF the singular achievements of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her first years in office was the smashing of kidnap-for-ransom gangs that had proliferated so much during her predecessor’s term that our country was labeled by foreign media as the “Asia’s kidnap capital.”

Many of the kidnappers were not even Filipinos, but were members of an international, ruthless Chinese criminal organization, known as the Triads, operating in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Mainland China. In the closing years of the last decade, it moved aggressively into our country and was mainly responsible for the spate of kidnappings of wealthy Chinese-Filipinos at that time.

Shortly after assuming power, Ms Arroyo, organized the National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force (Naktaf), under then Police Deputy Director Hermogenes Ebdane. In very sharp contrast to the kind of “wars” the incumbent President in his first year in office has been waging against such “enemies” as two inarguably feisty ladies—Ms Arroyo and former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez—the former president, as soon as she assumed power, declared war against the violent kidnapping gangs.

The back of the kidnapping organization was broken with 60 of the 99 pending cases solved in 2001 alone and 163 kidnappers arrested. Some 15 of the identified notorious 22 kidnapping gangs were neutralized. By 2002, forgotten was the kidnap-capital moniker, contributing to the country’s attraction as foreign investment site.

One of the spectacular victories was the arrest in September 2001 of seven Chinese nationals, believed to be Triad members, who kidnapped the 29-year-old Jacky Tiu of La Union. After her release, I talked to Ms Tiu herself before I accompanied her to see Ms Arroyo. Tiu was remarkably composed after her ordeal and was in a brave, fighting mood as she had received threats from the kidnappers not to pursue the case. I had even suggested to Ms Arroyo then to mention Tiu’s ordeal in her 2001 State of the Nation Address, to make sure that the kidnappers and their probable Triad cohorts realize that the President of the Republic herself had taken Tiu under her protective wing.

It was an open-and-shut case. After the P10-million ransom was paid by her father, the kidnappers were tailed to the hotel where police barged on them as they were counting the money. Tiu identified the kidnappers in a police line up.

Imagine my shock when I found out last week that the case is still pending in the courts—for more than 10 years now. It has passed through 10 judges: two mysteriously asked not to preside over the case; one retired before his due retirement date and weeks before he was expected to hand down a decision; another unabashedly demonstrated bias for the accused to the point of coaching their lawyers. Not even the fact that Tiu got married in 2008 to a powerful man, then Police Director Arturo Lomibao, helped in justice being served.

Despite the fact that the accused kidnappers were in their mid-20s and jobless when they were arrested in 2001 and didn’t have wealthy families, they were well taken care of—in jail and legally. Their lawyer, Ramon Reyes is known in the ethnic Chinese community to be one of best and most expensive Chinese-Filipino lawyers in the country. Tiu herself continues to receive anonymous threatening SMS messages.

Contrast our situation and that of the People’s Republic of China, and weep. Three Filipino travelers were caught with heroin in their checked-luggage in 2008, and sentenced in 2009 to death. A higher court affirmed the death sentence, gave them several months in the death row, and promptly executed them in 2011, despite appeals by President Aquino.

In our case, a young lady is kidnapped 10 years ago by Chinese nationals. She would have been killed if her family had not paid ransom. The Chinese Embassy even sent a note verbale to our foreign affairs department judging the accused innocent and demanding their release. One of them later escaped the country with the help of the immigration bureau’s so-called “confidential agents.” Rich Filipino lawyers and Filipino judges have managed to keep the case pending for 10 years.

The case has been scheduled for resolution since 2009 under Judge Antonio Rosales. I am glad that two of my colleagues have also been shocked by Tiu’s ordeal that they have also written about the case. In our situation, media indeed play a crucial role as a watchdog.

This case highlights the deep flaw in President Aquino’s platform of government, his anti-corruption campaign. “Without corruption, there is no poverty,” Aquino’s mantra has been. It is a naïve view of modern society, with a flawed logic and with little empirical basis.

Logically, corruption is a second-level category below the justice system, as it is a subcategory of crimes the system has to contain and punish. The corrupt in our country cannot be simply pinpointed, or condemned by media, and then summarily executed. A successful anti-corruption campaign can be undertaken only through the Philippine justice system.

But it has been a broken justice system. In the Jacky Tiu case, the legislative branch delivered by making kidnapping a heinous crime punishable by death. The executive branch delivered by swiftly apprehending the criminals. The judicial system though has failed—so far—in punishing the kidnappers.

It will exactly be same in the case of the anti-corruption campaign. The level of corruption among judges—the core of the legal system—is reputedly the same as in any other government agency. The obvious question then:  How do you jail the corrupt with corrupt judges?
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer