In defense of the rule of law

The news that Department of Justice prosecutors dismissed the case against self-confessed illegal drug distributor Kerwin Espinosa and illegal drug kingpin Peter Lim alias “Jaguar” is distressing. But is it surprising?
We already have a portent that the Duterte administration’s war on drugs is a sham when the investigation on the facilitated release of P6.4-billion shabu from the Bureau of Customs led nowhere. In fact, dismissed Customs officials were even promoted.
Aside from Lim and Espinosa, convicted drug lord Peter Co was cleared of charges. It only proves what we have known all along: The rich and influential are exonerated while the poor “sando at tsinelas” folks get killed without their day in court.
Espinosa himself admitted before a Senate inquiry that he was involved in the drug trade. Lim, on the other hand, was identified by President Duterte no less as a bigtime drug lord in Cebu.
Ironically, Sen. Leila de Lima has been languishing in jail for more than a year now, charged with “conspiracy” to trade in drugs based on weak and flimsy evidence. No drugs were ever found in her or her staff’s possession. No drug money has been traced to her.
De Lima’s only “crime” is that she investigated Duterte’s supposed death squad when he was mayor of Davao City and she the chair of the Commission on Human Rights. Plus, of course, she belongs to the opposition. Her continued incarceration is a travesty of the rule of law and due process.
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I am sharing with Tulay readers my statement at the March 12 press conference of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno at the Balay Kalinaw at Univeristy of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.
The statement was issued in my capacity as spokesperson of the Citizens Action Against Crime. I told the audience that the kidnap victims with whom I work benefit directly from the reforms in the criminal justice system introduced by Sereno.
The statement essentially asks that our constitutional process and rule of law should prevail. It also supports the much beleaguered judiciary after the House Committee on Justice on March 8 found probable cause to impeach Sereno. The resolution will be voted upon by the House plenary. If passed, the Chief Justice will stand trial before the Senate.
In the meantime, sectors worried that they will not get the Senate vote to convict Sereno are trying every means to force her to resign – obviously for self-interest. There is the quo warranto case filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida. There is the petition signed by an extremely small number of court employees and judges asking her to resign. (Judges’ organizations are condemning the supposed statement from the Philippine Judges Association, which they said they didn’t know anything about.—Ed.)
Enough is enough. We all have a stake to see that our judiciary remains protected. If a sitting Chief Justice cannot get her day in court, what kind of justice can ordinary people like us expect from our judicial system?
My statement reads:

The Philippine Constitution has laid out the framework for the protection of the country and its citizens. It has defined the institutions and processes that will ensure that the people’s will shall prevail and that the State shall work in the people’s interests.
One of the most important institutions in the Constitution is our Judiciary, which serves as the arbiter of law. An independent and nonpolitical Judiciary is essential for law and order, the prevention of crime, and justice for victims.
We believe in the constitutional process, and condemn actions that seek to circumvent those processes to corrupt the Judiciary for political ends. Impeachment has been set by our Constitution at a high standard, precisely to ensure that our democratic institutions can never again be easily set aside or bent to the will of a ruling few.
The call for the resignation of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is an extra-constitutional shortcut that tramples on the duly mandated process of impeachment for the sake of expediency. We strongly condemn it.
I am also deeply troubled by news that those who would have Sereno ousted by any means, have resorted to the coercion and harassment of judges and employees of the Judiciary. Such a move politicizes the entire Judiciary at the expense of its duty of independence. This is corruption. We will not have it.
Let the impeachment process take its course. Let the rule of law prevail.

I was also one of the 41 members of TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) who issued a statement supporting Sereno. The full statement appears below:

In this month of March that celebrates women power all over the world, sister members of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) solidly stand with Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in her fight against the unfair and unjust conduct of impeachment proceedings by the House of Representatives Committee on Justice.
Without establishing a single impeachable offense, it carried out an abusive maligning of her person by violating her right to informed consent and confidentiality and privacy of records, and by pressuring mental health professionals to indulge in unethical practice.
Without showing one impeachable offense, the Solicitor General filed a quo warranto challenging her fitness for the job of Chief Justice, a position for which she was selected and appointed, after a long, rigorous, and lawfully-vetted process. Quo warranto is an unconstitutional attempt to remove her.
We oppose all actions that circumvent the processes required and allowed by our Constitution in the legitimate removal of a public official. The fundamental principle of our democracy is the rule of law. Without it and the freedom of expression, we are not a free country.
Most of all, we lament the erosion of the separation of powers of the three co-equal and independent branches of our government. Not being elected, and therefore not beholden to popular vote, the Judiciary stands solely on the rule of law and therefore must be the most independent and clearest authority on matters of the law. It is crucial to our being a nation to have a highly independent Judiciary composed of judges who can make decisions free from political pressure.
We pray, and appeal to the leaders of our nation, that you, who ask its citizens to be law abiding, be the first to respect and follow the rule of law. We ask you, who represent us and serve as our voice, to observe constitutional processes without shortcuts and self-serving political agenda.
Democracy can only be built through open societies that freely argue and navigate a diversity of information and opinion within lawful and fair bounds. Only then can there be enlightenment and solutions to problems. When and where there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability – there will only be abuse, corruption, injustice and poverty.

Signed:

Clarita P. Aganon, 2001, Government Service
Ma. Regina Hechanova Alampay, 2010, Psychology
Rhodora Romero Aldemita, 1998, Science
Isabel R. Aleta, 1981, Humanitarian Endeavor
Zorayda Amelia C. Alonzo, 1992, Government Service
Edwina Koch Arroyo, 1977, Arts
Karina Africa Bolasco, 1995, Book Publishing and Literacy
Ani de Leon-Brown, 2013, Sports
Esperanza I. Cabral, 1986, Medicine
Maria Rosa N. Carrion, 1989, Marketing Communications
Corazon P. B. Claudio, 1989, Science and Technology
Ma. Nieves Confesor, 1992, Government Service
Olivia “Bong”Coo,1986, Sports
Laura David, 2010, Oceanography
Rina Jimenez David, 1995, Women’s Rights Advocacy
Teresita Q. Deles, 1992, Community Service
Cynthia E Dominguez, 1995, Medicine
Ces Drilon, 2004, Journalism
Jean Enriquez, 2010, Humanitarian Endeavor
Marie Celeste Legaspi-Gallardo, 1989, Performing Arts
Cheche Lazaro, 1989, Broadcast Media
Joi Barrios-Leblanc, 2004, Arts and Literature
Lilia de Lima, 1983, Law
June Lopez, 1989, Psychiatry and Human Rights
Aura C. Matias, 2004, Industrial Engineering
Marie Antonette Juinio-Menez, 2001, Marine Ecology
Deanie Lyn Ocampo, 2004, Education
Dina Ocampo, 2007, Education
Yolanda V. Ong, 1995, Communications
Lou Sabrina Ongkiko, 2016, Education
Elsa Payumo, 1977, Tourism
Margarita J. de la Rama, 1989, Business
Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete, 2013, Theater Arts
Fernandina R. Sandico, 2004, Arts
Mediadora E. Saniel, 1992, Medicine
Teresita Ang See, 1992, Cultural Integration
Paulynn Paredes Sicam, 1989, Print Journalism
Corazon Juliano Soliman, 1992, Community Development
Myla Villanueva, 2010, Science and Technology
Catherine Vistro-Yu, 2007, Education
Nina Lim-Yuson, 1992, Education

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