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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Two Types of Justice/Injustice Secretary Strikes Again

The Philippine Daily Inquirer on its front page yesterday proved that, in our country, there are two types of justice that are applied: one for the poor, and one for the rich.

On its front page were several photos of the posh living quarters that convicts Romeo Jalosjos and Claudio Teehankee Jr stayed in while they were incarcerated in the National Bureau of Prisons compound. Inside the room were various luxuries and amenities that a lot of our countrymen who aren’t criminals would not be able to afford even after years of toil. How can government officials say that rehabilitation for these people has occurred even though these criminals were provided with all the amenities of good living? How can the government say that there is justice when rich prisoners can have all the space they need, while poor prisoners have to be packed like sardines?

In addition to this, despite their monstrous crimes, criminals such as Jalosjos and Teehankee were pardoned by the President and set free, almost in defiance of the victims and their relatives. Given the fact that Teehankee’s brother Manuel is currently a government official, the common perception is that some strings were pulled in order to make this release a reality. Given the attitude of this administration, that perception isn’t so farfetched.

At the same time, the sheer arrogance of these government officials in defending their indefensible actions is unbelievable. For one, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, whose previous stint as MILF peace negotiator gave us the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, tries to spin the situation by saying that Teehankee hadn’t been pardoned; his sentence was merely commuted, and, because of this, given his length of incarceration, he has already served his time. He also tries to label the situation as a ‘rich vs rich’ situation, saying that that was the reason it was given a lot of media focus.

Never mind, of course, the nature of Teehankee’s crime. Never mind the fact that Teehankee killed a 16-year old girl, along with one of her companions, in cold blood, and wounded her other companion. As for the serving of the sentence, it should be remembered that Teehankee was meted 2 life sentences; in real terms, that’s 80 years. By having his sentence commuted, he would barely have served a fourth of the total sentence. Is that justice?

More than Dureza, however, Injustice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, symbolizes the government’s insensitivity to the victims and their relatives, and, despite this, he is probably one of the officials with the longest tenure in this administration.

His latest statement was to call the Hultmans ‘hypocrites’ and ‘suffering from amnesia’ as he claimed that the Hultmans were informed about the release, and that they had signed a document which stated that they would not contest the pardoning of Teehankee.

First of all, while it is true that the listing of Teehankee as one of the persons to be pardoned was published in the newspaper, if the government was truly sensitive to the victims’ families’ plight, it should take it upon itself to inform the families directly; it may be legally defensible, but it’s doesn’t seem like a moral action.

Secondly, it’s possible that the Hultmans simply signed the document in order to move on, and trusted that no President in his or her right mind would pardon Teehankee. Presidents Aquino, Ramos, and Estrada didn’t touch the case. But then again, the Hultmans didn’t foresee the coming of President Arroyo, who must be setting a record of sorts for pardoning everything except the kitchen sink.

I do not know what pull Gonzalez has for holding on to his post, despite the fact that he has defiled and debased his Cabinet position countless times; his latest comments about the Hultmans is only one of many a stupid statement he has made as Justice Secretary. Does he have some inside knowledge about the President’s doings, that he cannot be fired, lest he spills the beans? Or is his staying in his position a calculated move in order to deflect criticism away from the President?

Teehankee’s release is yet another log on the smouldering fire of discontent against the Arroyo administration. The President continues to have luck on her side, however, as the Filipino people have not yet seen anyone who is virtuous enough to replace her; otherwise, had that person been found, she would have been lynched ages ago. Instead, people are simply waiting for her to step down in 2010. But, with idiots like Dureza and Gonzalez speaking on her behalf, she had better be ready for the backlash once she does step down.

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