It's not about whether you're rich or poor; it's about whether you knew you were breaking the law

For days, I’ve been reading and watching the news about the government’s efforts to stay the execution of the three Filipinos who had been sentenced to death for smuggling heroin into China. I’m sure that the government, especially the Vice President who has been very much visible these days, is earning a lot of “pogi” points from the OFWs and their families. And not just the three convicted OFWs and their families but OFWs and their families in general. The message is that if they were in the same situation, the government would be exerting this kind of effort for them too.

The facts:

1. The convicted Filipinos were caught smuggling drugs into China.

2. The size of the packages of the drugs make it clear that the packages couldn’t have been inserted into their luggage without their knowledge.

3. Teresita Ang See “who served as an interpreter for Chinese authorities who investigated the cases, said the 3 Filipinos had a deal with drug syndicates” and so knew what they were carrying.

Questions:

1. The Philippines and China are two independent and sovereign states. Crimes committed in Chinese territory, including those committed by non-Chinese nationals, are subject to Chinese law. And vice versa. Why can’t we just respect China’s right to impose its law?

2. Notwithstanding the data on drug mules, why is the very phenomenon of drug mules being linked directly to lack of jobs locally and the prevailing poverty? There is just as much data to show that people involved in the drug trade are not necessarily poor. Many are in it because it is easy money — a chance to make millions with relatively little work involved.

And it is that attraction that makes me skeptical about claims that if Filipinos weren’t so poor and if they were gainfully employed, none would be involved in the drug trade — which is the very justification being used as to why the government is doing everything to save the three convicted Filipinos from execution.

Yes, it is sad that three fellow Filipinos are now facing the death penalty in China. It is even sadder that hundreds more are languishing in jails in many other parts of the world — also for drug smuggling.

But the thing is, the three Filipinos in China knew they were carrying drugs, they knew it is illegal to bring drugs to China and they knew the risks. And they did it anyway. If those drugs had been merely planted in their luggage without their knowledge nor consent, I’d be more sympathetic. But that’s not the case. In fact, at least one of the three had done it before.

And these aren’t jobless Filipinos — they flew to China armed with employment contracts.

So why is the government spending taxpayers’ money to beg the Chinese government not to carry out the death sentence on these Filipinos? Continue reading

Still on Angelo Reyes' death: where's the slug?

There. I said death, not suicide. Lots of reasons. I had to read all the new reports I could find after agreeing to do a TV interview. And, to answer a reader (on the FB page of my food blog) who’s wondering if the recent spate of TV appearances means I’m giving TV a “go” again, the answer is time. I have so much time these days with the kids living away five days a week and TV guesting is an interesting way to kill time. Consider this post as my way of organizing my thoughts — I tend to forget unless I write them down.

1. It’s curious that more than two and half days since Reyes died, the most recent news reports say little more than what they said on Tuesday morning. While TV and radio crews have covered the wake and the statements given by Reyes family, the big media outfits have largely been dismissive in reporting about official investigations on Reyes’ death itself. I had to visit the websites of smaller news outfits to find information about the what the police have found out — and what the police found out, as well was what they haven’t, that is strange too.

2. It weirds me out that the Philippine National Police (PNP) has closed the case on the strength (weakness would be a more appropriate term) of an “eyewitness” account and the recovery of a bullet casing and a .45 caliber gun.

The eyewitness account is useless because the witness, the cemetery caretaker, did not see Reyes actually shoot himself. He said he saw Reyes holding a gun in his left hand, heard a shot and saw Reyes sprawled on the ground.

The recovery of a bullet casing and a gun are is useless unless the slug is recovered and matched to the casing and the gun. If Reyes shot himself, at that close range, the bullet would have gone through (some reports say the bullet did go through but that can also happen if Reyes was shot from a distance using a high-powered gun) and the slug should have been on the ground. It did not rain on Tuesday morning and the crime scene was immediately cordoned off. Why was the slug not found?

3. Why are most people willing to accept his death as suicide? More importantly, why are most people willing to accept the theory that Reyes killed himself out of love for his family so he could protect them?

An autopsy was not performed; Reyes’ family wouldn’t allow it. An autopsy would have determined 1) the trajectory of the bullet; 2) whether Reyes was shot at close range and 3) whether Reyes’ hand had powder burns to show that he pulled the trigger. Again, without answers to all that, the eyewitness account, the recovery of the casing and the gun are useless to establish suicide — without question.

Almost everything I’ve read veer toward the theory that Reyes meant to protect his family. This theory is tied to previous statements he uttered that his family shouldn’t be dragged into the “pabaon” mess currently under investigation by the Senate.

But here’s the thing. Reyes had been in government long enough to be well-versed with the law. Moreover, when he got embroiled in the inquiry, he hired a lawyer precisely to advise him. It is too improbable to presume that he didn’t know that his death would NOT have spared his family. It is too unlikely that his lawyer did not previously advise him of what Senator Miriam Santiago announced after his death: the Anti-Graft Law covers persons who benefitted, directly or indirectly, from the ill-gotten wealth of a public official. Reyes himself might have escaped criminal and civil liability but not his family.

So, I don’t but buy the theory that he killed himself to spare his family. At least, not in the context of sparing them from any investigation arising from the Anti-Graft Law. If anything, his death just threw them into the pit and left to fend for themselves.

But, perhaps, Reyes knew about human nature more than most of us do. Perhaps, he was counting on how Filipinos can be so forgiving after a person dies. Perhaps, he knew that there would be an abundance of sympathy and the allegations about him would be forgotten. If that was what he thought, he may have been right. Look at how some people in the Senate reacted — some senators wanted the investigation adjourned in deference to Reyes family who should be allowed to time to mourn. Good thing that this small group of senators got outvoted.

Look at what ordinary people are saying — they’re talking of honor and practically calling him a hero for choosing to take his life.

My goodness, what death can bring. Filipinos are so forgiving of the dead, really — just look at how Marcos has been forgiven as evidenced by the now successful political careers of his widow and children. Continue reading

Failure to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt

The crime was committed in June 1991 when Estrellita, Carmela and Jennifer Vizconde were killed at their house. Suspects were arrested, confessions were signed but the case was dismissed.

In 1995, on the strength of an “eyewitness” account, eight young men — Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio “Tony Boy” Lejano, Artemio “Dong” Ventura, Michael A. Gatchalian, Hospicio “Pyke” Fernandez, Peter Estrada, Miguel “Ging” Rodriguez, and Joey Filart (Ventura and Filart were never found and arrested) — were tried for rape with homicide. In 2000, the trial court convicted them.

In 2005, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

In a decision promulgated on December 14, 2010, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction for failure of the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, and ordered their release.

Release? Yes, release. For 15 years, from the time they were arrested to the day the Supreme Court reversed the conviction, the accused were in detention. Article III, Section 13 of the Constitution says, “All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law…” Rape with homicide is punishable by reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment).

If it’s difficult to appreciate the length of time by sheer numbers, I look at it this way: In June 1991 when the Vizcondes were killed, Speedy was my boyfriend. Today, our firstborn, Sam, is 18 years old. In 1995 when Hubert Webb, et al. were arrested, our younger daughter, Alex, was one year old. She will turn 17 in January. In 2000 when the accused were convicted by the trial court, Sam was in Grade 2 and Alex was in Grade 1. Today, they are both in college. Hubert Webb and the other accused were young men when they were arrested and jailed; today, they are middle-aged men.

When I read the Supreme Court decision last night (click here for the full text of the Supreme Court decision on People vs. Webb, et al.), I wasn’t sure if I believe that the accused are innocent. I’m still not sure. Even the Supreme Court isn’t. What the decision says is that the prosecution FAILED to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. And that’s not the same as saying that they are innocent. No, not the same at all.

It is difficult — and unfair — for a by-stander to pass judgment on the guilt and innocence of the accused. So, I won’t. But the Supreme Court decision is significant in ways beyond the question of guilt or innocence. In fact, what it says is downright scary. Continue reading

Strange cases of U.P. Law Dean Marvic Leonen and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Dean Marvic Leonen was at the forefront of a call for the resignation of Supreme Court justice Mariano del Castillo for plagiarism. The Supreme Court itself absolved Del Castillo then lashed at the 37 members of the U.P. Law faculty who signed the statement calling for his resignation, demanding that they show cause as to why they shouldn’t be held in contempt. For a more detailed discussion, click here and here.

My support for them had nothing to do with the fact that some of them are my friends. Dean Leonen and I were in the same class and we were both in Section A. I shared the position of those 37 faculty members because I believe in intellectual honesty and because, as a professional writer, it is in my best interests that intellectual honesty be upheld at all levels. It was a blow to read the Supreme Court decision saying that where there is no malice, there is no plagiarism — as though the act of taking is not malice by itself.

And then, the tables turned. A group called Philippine Social Justice Foundation (Philjust) through its members Samson Alcantara, Lope Feble, Mariano Santiago, and Pedro Dabu Jr. wrote to Dean Leonen about an article published in 2004 where Dean Leonen allegedly committed plagiarism himself. It’s all over the news. Continue reading

As the last bastion crumbles

Much as I’d like to write about something — anything — else, I can’t seem to do it. I had a birthday party over the weekend and we talked about the plagiarism in the Supreme Court scandal. I go to Facebook and we talk about the same thing. Online and offline, the topic stays the same. Bigger scandals have rocked this country but this plagiarism issue is really getting pervasive. Why? Well, because in the past, whenever there was a crisis in government, we always looked up to the Supreme Court as the last bastion of sanity and probity. And the way things are turning out, the bastion is crumbling fast.

To be fair, it is not the first time that the sanctity of the Supreme Court has been tainted. When Marcos was president, there was a reason why the Supreme Court was called his rubber stamp. Apart from a couple of dissenters, Marcos’ illegal acts were upheld by the Supreme Court — including the abolition of Congress, the re-writing of the Constitution and the questionable manner by which it was ratified.

When Joseph Estrada was booted out and the legal luminaries were at a loss as to how to justify Gloria Arroyo’s ascent to the presidency, then Supreme Court chief justice Hilario Davide and Associate Justice Artemio Panganiban made no secret that their decision that she should be sworn in was not the result outstanding legal research but, rather, of having prayed on their knees to ask for guidance. Continue reading

Trillanes amnesty and other shockers

First of all, an amnesty is not a pardon. You have to be be convicted first before getting pardoned. Erap was pardoned. But this isn’t about Erap. This is about Antonio Trillanes IV and the other soldiers on trial for the Oakwood incident in 2003. For those unfamiliar with the incident, a group of armed soldiers, all active members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and dubbed the “Magdalo” faction, took over the Oakwood Hotel and demanded the resignation of then president Gloria Arroyo. They later surrendered and were charged with coup d’etat.

President Benigno Aquino III has signed a proclamation granting amnesty to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and other soldiers involved in the Oakwood Mutiny in July 2003, the Marine standoff last February 2006 and the Manila Peninsula siege in November 2007.

Aquino said what he signed was a proclamation and is subject to concurrence by Congress [ABS-CBN News].

Amnesty can be granted at any stage of the proceedings (before, during or after trial) but it needs the concurrence of Congress. Both pardon and amnesty extinguish criminal liability — no more imprisonment or payment of fines. Both have the effect of REWARDING criminals for the crimes they have committed.

(Insert at 7.49 p.m. Amnesty proclamation is also an admission that President Aquino was wrong when he said in a speech that whatever acts Trillanes et. al committed, it wasn’t coup d’etat. If there was no coup d’etat, then the charges would simply have been dropped. But the charges couldn’t be dropped because Trillanes et. al did, in fact, commit coup d’etat. Now that there is an amnesty proclamation, no one needs to dwell on the issue of guilt or innocence because once Congress concurs, the crime magically disappears. Smart, eh?)

This amnesty proclamation comes after a group that included former president Joseph Estrada and former House Speaker Jose de Venecia publicly urged Aquino to grant amnesty to the soldiers in a newspaper ad.

I have one observation. These people who bought the ad, the people putting public pressure on Aquino to grant amnesty, have a very personal ax to grind against Gloria Arroyo.

I have two questions. If Trillanes’ group had mutinied against a president NOT hated by Estrada, De Venecia and company, would they still urge Aquino to grant amnesty? If Trillanes’ group had mutinied against a president whom Aquino liked and supported — in short, someone other than Gloria Arroyo — would he have granted amnesty?

I’ll leave it at that. On to the next shockers.

When the report of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) on the Luneta hostage-taking incident came out, the document that was released to the public EXCLUDED the committee’s recommendations. And I made no comment. Now that those recommendations are public, and now that it is also public knowledge that Malacañang AMENDED those recommendations (see the comparison on the IIRC recommendations with the Malacañang recommendations), I will comment. Continue reading

Carlos Celdran: Machiavellian, no doubt

So, Carlos Celdran of the Intramuros walking tour fame is in jail. Wearing a Jose Rizal costume, he walked up to the church altar during a mass holding a placard that says, “Damaso.” The message is clear. He is calling the Catholic clergy tyrants for its anti-reproductive health bill stance.

I agree with Celdran’s message. It’s been my message for the longest time — the Catholic Church should stop meddling in State affairs. The actuations of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippine (CBCP) are an even bigger sore as far as I’m concerned.

Sure, Celdran has stirred enough controversy especially with his arrest. The theatrical protest will be talked about for years and, hopefully, will generate enough interest for people to talk about the real issue behind the protest.

But does the end justify the means? I’ve been asked why I’m not supporting the Free Carlos Celdran movement. I can’t. He’s not in jail because of his message — he’s in jail because of the method by which he chose to deliver his message. And he admits that.

Let’s be very clear about one thing. He’s not in jail because his right to free expression is being suppressed. A lot of stupid comments on the internet are making it out as though Celdran is being prevented from saying his piece. Hell, no. He’s in jail because of his method — he disrupted an effing mass. And I find that so doggone unnecessary.

It’s so high school. It’s so juvenile. And even as a form of political protest, it is so divisive because instead of getting the “faithful” to discuss the real issue, they’re just going to be turned off with the methodology. Continue reading

Annulment and bigamy

Not to indulge in gossip but, as a lawyer, I don’t get it. If, as their oldest daughter claims and as the wife confirms, “The details of the annulment of Robin Padilla’s marriage to Liezl Sicangco in Australia are now being finalized,” then the marriages of both parties to their new partners are bigamous. And, consequently, null and void.

But weren’t they married in accordance with Shari’a Law where a man is allowed to have four wives so long as he can provide for all of them? Well, according to the second of the two linked articles above (the report is in Filipino), the Muslim marriage celebrated at the New Bilibid Prison was followed by a civil wedding. Civilly, for as long as a marriage remains valid, subsequent marriages contracted by either or both parties are deemed bigamous. So, it doesn’t matter if Robin Padilla marries Mariel Rodriquez a dozen times in different ceremonies. It would still be bigamy.

But the Indian marriage must be valid, you may say. Well, no. It does not dissolve the first valid marriage.

But they’ve been separated for years and years! Separation de facto does not automatically annul a civil marriage. The parties still have to go to court, file a petition for annulment and, only after a judicial declaration does the civil marriage end.

Personally, I don’t see the point in getting married if there is a cloud of illegitimacy hanging over the union. But, for some persons, it is the ceremony itself with the public exchange of vows rather than the legal status that counts. A simulation, no doubt, but comforting to go through anyway?

And, obviously, there are legal repercussions. Bigamy is a crime in the Philippines. Continue reading

The Supreme Court, law schools and intellectual dishonesty

If you haven’t heard yet, a Supreme Court justice is in hot waters for publishing a decision where portions were lifted verbatim from three different sources. From the column of former Supreme Court Justice Artemio Panganiban.

Short backgrounder. On April 28, 2010, the Supreme Court en banc, in “Vinuya vs Romulo,” dismissed the petition of more than 70 comfort women belonging to the “Malaya Lolas Organization.” It refused to compel the respondent government officials to secure from Japan an “apology and other forms of reparations” for the rape and other abuses committed by Japanese soldiers against them during World War II.

Essentially, the Court ruled that the power to conduct foreign relations is an executive prerogative that the Court could not interfere with. Since the Treaty of Peace with Japan already settled all war claims of the Philippines, the Court said it could not attribute grave abuse to the respondent officials for refusing to take up the cudgels for the comfort women at this late stage.

Instead of just challenging the merits of the decision in their motion for reconsideration and supplemental motion for reconsideration, the comfort women’s lawyers—Harry Roque and Romel Bagares—also accused the Court of “wholly lift(ing), without proper attribution, from at least three sources.”

They identified the writers and the plagiarized articles as: (1) Evan J. Criddle and Evan Fox-Decent from their article, “A Fiduciary Theory of Jus Cogens” published in 2009 in the Yale Journal of International Law; (2) Christian J. Tams from his book, “Enforcing Erga Omnes Obligations in International Law” published by the Cambridge University Press in 2005; and (3) Mark Ellis from his article, “Breaking the Silence: On Rape as an International Crime” published in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law in 2006.

You can read the full text of the decision in the Supreme Court website.

The U.P. College of Law has issued an official statement calling for the resignation of the ponente (i.e., the justice who “wrote” the decision); so has the Supreme Court calling for sobriety where it quotes Philippine Constitutional Assembly (Philconsa) President Manuel “Lolong” Lazaro who blames — get this — the internet for the mess.

Lazaro stressed that “the ratio decidendi of the decision can stand legal scrutiny sans references to the articles plagiarized. The alleged plagiarism uploaded in the internet constitute direct contempt or contempt in facie curiae, a violation of the lawyers oath and a transgression of the Code of Professional Responsibility for which the person(s)/responsible must be made accountable.”

“The reprehensible and unorthodox resort of the internet must be address quickly and properly to avert its repetition to save the judicial system from further disrepute,” he said.

Oh, my goodness. And last Saturday, I just delivered a talk about how our laws have been unable to cope with the ever-changing technology and the reason why many still think that libel laws don’t apply to online publications. Oh, but that’s another matter. I only mention it to contextualize. Lawyers who belong to the older generations simply do not understand how the internet works, they are intimidated by what they don’t understand, and they like to blame it for everything — from the deteriorating moral norms to short attention span to, well, everything!

Atty. Lazaro mentions ratio decidendi (the meat of the decision — the substance). Well, Atty. Lazaro, the meat of the plagiarism issue is NOT where and how the decision was circulated BUT WHETHER OR NOT THE PLAGIARISM HAS IN FACT BEEN COMMITTED, something that you don’t deny. Why blame the internet? The Supreme Court itself uses it and the decision was published in the Supreme Court website.

Lawyers know for a fact that very rarely do Supreme Court justices personally write decisions. They have a staff of researchers and writers — lawyers, mostly — for that.

But it doesn’t make the responsibility of the justice any less when he allows a plagiarized decision to be published.

Bringing this discussion in the realm of academics — law schools and how law students are trained — adds a new dimension to the discussion. The dean of the U.P. College of Law, and my batchmate, Marvic Leonen posted a very compelling essay in Facebook. I think it deserves a whole different audience so I am reproducing it here. Continue reading

A note from a cousin-in-law about Filipinos violently killed in Beijing five years ago

My cousin-in-law, Ramon Sunico, posted a note in Facebook about Filipino tourists who were hacked to death in Beijing in 2005. Please note that I double checked the facts mentioned before reposting the Facebook note here. Here are two relevant links you might want to see before reading the rest.

American killed, another wounded in Beijing knife attack (August 9, 2008):

The last known fatal knife attack against foreigners occurred on April 19, 2005, when a man ran amok near the Mao Zedong Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, stabbing to death an oil executive and his daughter from the Philippines, Emmanuel Madrigal and Regina Mia…

Human rights in China (September 2005 report):

Wang Gongzuo, a 25-year-old man from Jiangsu, was sentenced to death on September 29 after the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court found him guilty of killing a retired Filipino oil company executive and his teenage daughter in Tiananmen Square in April 2005. The victims, Emmanuel Madrigal and Regina Mia, were visiting Beijing on a package tour. The motivation for the attack, undertaken in broad daylight, is not known, but according to a report posted on the Court’s internal website, Wang, a farmer from Jiangsu Province, attacked his victims “to vent his anger against society.” Wang waived his right to appeal after the sentencing. Four Filipino diplomats attended the trial.

The text of the note is reproduced in toto. It is meant as food for thought and not to cause more agitation. Continue reading