Tale of two judges

I tried to reread my Tom Clancy collection while trying to get through a dismal week. The rains and floods had not yet subsided as I was writing this, and I was battling a viral infection I couldn’t seem to shake off.
There was a piece of good news, however. A Nueva Ecija court decided to dismiss the trumped-up 12-year-old murder charges against four former members of the Makabayan bloc, now popularly known as the “Makabayan 4.”
Except for former agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano, I have known National Anti-Poverty Commissioner Liza Masa and former Bayan Muna party-list representatives Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño who comprise the Makabayan 4 for nearly four decades. They are the most patriotic, persistent, resilient defenders of our country and most consistent fighters for what is good and right for the Filipinos.
Despite all the trials each of them have been through – Ocampo in particular – they have never strayed from the track to do what is right, to criticize politicians when they do wrong, and to try to set right whatever is wrong to the best of their abilities. Time and again, they have put country ahead of themselves.
The Makabayan 4 have not held back in calling out the Duterte administrations on its excesses or shortcomings. They were important participants in the well-attended alternate people’s State of the Nation Address last July 23. It is not surprising, therefore, that certain self-serving politicians have always been scared of the Makabayan 4 and their ability to lead.
The twists and turns of the murder case filed against them seem potential fodder for a Clancy novel.
The murder case arising from the abduction and deaths of three farmers from 2001 to 2004 landed in the sala of Judge Evelyn Turla of Palayan, Nueva Ecija in 2006.
In 2008, Turla remanded the case to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, concluding that “the proper procedure in the conduct of the preliminary investigation was not followed.”
She said the prosecutors should conduct a proper preliminary investigation.
In February last year, the Supreme Court ordered Turla to look into the case against the four instead of remanding it to the prosecutor.
Turla on July 11 issued the arrest warrants for the four, then promptly inhibited herself from the case after doing so. But the warrant would become known to the public only in late July, after the SONA.
Fortunately, the judge who took over the case, Trese Wenceslao, immediately dismissed the charges on Aug. 8, declaring the statements of the witnesses inconsistent and incredible.
Why Turla missed what was right under her nose and failed to dismiss the case outright is anyone’s guess. But it brings to the fore how selective justice can be. One need only recall how selective justice reared its ugly head in the unseating of Ma. Lourdes Sereno as chief magistrate. Thank goodness we still have judges like Wenceslao who can discern right from wrong.
The fight is far from over, though. Insidious forces want to stifle legitimate dissent. The resurrection of the case shows clearly that the Makabayan bloc is indeed a force to reckon with. Many cause-oriented groups came out to defend the four and stand by them. This should show the unseen hand behind the case that the people will not forever keep their silence.
Casiño has said former president and now House Speaker Gloria Arroyo was behind the initial filing of the case and that the group would not be surprised if she had a hand in reviving it.
The Makabayan 4 have vowed to hold accountable those behind these harassment charges. Most importantly, they promised to press charges against lawyer Ferdinand Topacio for endangering their lives.
Topacio’s group, Citizens’ Crime Watch, had offered a P1 million reward (or P250,000 per head) for leads on the whereabouts of the Makabayan 4.
This is the same minion Topacio who danced with glee when the Supreme Court announced Sereno’s ouster.

Where is the tiger’s teeth?
President Rodrigo Duterte promised in his third SONA that the anti-drugs war will remain relentless and chilling. But while mere grams of shabu are being taken off the streets, tons more are apparently flooding the markets.
The Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency seized around 500 kilos of shabu worth P3.4 billion at the Manila International Container Port on Aug. 7.
The illegal drugs were concealed in two magnetic lifters inside a 20-footer container van that arrived from Malaysia. The shipment was consigned to Vecaba Trading of Sampaloc, Manila.
Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña said it is by far the biggest drug shipment since he assumed office in August 2017.
On Aug. 9, four more empty magnetic lifters similar to those found days earlier were discovered at a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez in Cavite.
The K-9 units that sniffed the containers detected the illegal drugs, said to be estimated at 500 kilos or P6.8 billion worth of shabu, double the value of the two containers previously seized.
No less than PDEA chief Aaron Aquino lamented that while policemen relentlessly pursue drugs suspects with miniscule amounts of several grams, tons of shabu are finding their way to the streets.
But Lapeña would later say chemists from the Philippine National Police Scene of Crime Operations Office, PDEA and the Bureau of Customs who conducted swab tests on the lifters found no trace of shabu. Duterte himself said PDEA’s conclusion that the empty containers indeed contained P6.8B worth of shabu was pure speculation.
Lawyer Ruel Lasala, officer in charge of PDEA’s Office of the Deputy Director General, said the agency stands by its findings. He said PDEA cannot completely rule out that the containers did contain shabu. While the swabbing found no trace, one fact needs to be considered: The drugs were vacuum sealed inside plastic, covered with another vacuum-sealed plastic, before being covered in aluminum foil and could indeed leave no residue.
Lasala also said the address of the consignee was the same as that of the shipment of shabu intercepted Aug. 7.
The recent shabu haul raises several questions: Why do real big-time drugs lords remain scot free? Why is government just going after small-time drugs pushers? Is the tiger the government unleashed to fight drugs toothless?

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