The Long View: Judicial limbo

Judicial limbo
By Manuel L. Quezon III

SEN. Antonio Trillanes IV will remain in detention, and incommunicado, until Judge Oscar Pimentel’s decision refusing him permission to go to work or set up an office in his cell is overturned by a superior court.

Pimentel justified his decision by citing the case of Romeo Jalosjos, who’d been convicted of statutory rape and reelected congressman, but was refused permission to attend sessions of the House of Representatives because the Supreme Court said he had to serve his sentence. In a word, Pimentel decided that an individual facing trial is on par with someone who has already been convicted of a crime.

But no one—not even Trillanes himself, to the best of my knowledge—is proposing that he be allowed to avoid punishment if he’s convicted. He is not, at this point, a convict. He is a detainee.

What is the purpose of detention? It isn’t punishment, it’s to prevent escape, and to close off the possibility of someone accused of a crime evading justice.

Trillanes’ lawyers had brought up a more appropriate legal precedent: the case involving the late Sen. Justiniano Montano. Facing multiple murder charges, arrested and denied bail, Montano was granted permission by the Supreme Court to attend Senate sessions anyway. The purpose of denying bail being to prevent the accused from fleeing, Montano’s position as a senator made escaping justice impossible.

In contrast, that famous escape artist, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, was not only allowed to post bail so that he could campaign for election, but he subsequently received the delightful news that the charges against him would be dropped. Jalosjos, chairman emeritus of Kakusa, also became the beneficiary of a remarkable grant of executive clemency.

Honasan has, of course, been inclined, with his return to office, to preach the virtues of collaboration with the administration. Kakusa remains on the threshold of winning a seat in the House, and its chairman emeritus can reasonably be expected to preach a similarly accommodating political line.

It is therefore not a question of what you’ve done, but whom you support. Nothing is impossible, it seems—bail, the dropping of charges, executive clemency—if you publicly proclaim a, shall we say, flexible attitude toward the administration.

But to remain determined, and thus, inflexible, in your political stand, as Trillanes has done, gets you not only an interminable trial, but a grudging accommodation of your reasonable requests at best (and more often than not, as Pimentel recently did, a harsh scolding and rejection from the courts).

But the charges against Trillanes are so serious, some would say, that he deserves no consideration from the courts.

Justice is blind. Even if someone faces the accusations raised against them squarely, as Trillanes has, what of it? Even if he’s submitted to the various proceedings against him, and conducted his defense without benefit of the pork barrel and the entire Armed Forces to protect him (in marked contrast to, say, the President who enjoys and uses with relish, every advantage accorded her by her office), so what? And why should the courts care if Trillanes never skulked around from hidey-hole to hidey-hole, a tried-and-tested strategy of then ex-Senator Honasan?

That is what separates the courts from the political system. Trillanes went willingly, and with head held high, straight into captivity in 2003; the commander in chief he rebelled against has used every means at her disposal to avoid, then thwart, any attempt to hold her accountable for the conduct of her duties.

It’s no surprise, then, that every vote for Trillanes was a vote against a commander in chief who praises generals accused of sanctioning political murders, and who presides over a military top brass which provides dud ammunition to its troops. There is a mountain of evidence to prove the accusations hurled by Trillanes; his accusers can only hide behind a heap of lies.

Still, he is under detention. In the eyes of the judge, he deserves no consideration.

And so, a senator with an iron-clad mandate, duly proclaimed as a bona fide member of the upper house, can neither attend sessions nor set up an office where he is detained.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, dissipated whatever benefits of the doubt he might have been given by a skeptical public, basically embarking on a career of whining in office and beginning his senatorial stint by pawing at and fawning over Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

An administration that is prepared to extend every consideration to Honasan and demonstrate its compassion to Jalosjos, which gave its unstinting support to Zubiri, and expressed its admiration for Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, can’t be expected, of course, to lift a finger so that Trillanes can do his job. Just as it can’t—and won’t—permit anyone but Sen. Joker Arroyo to head the blue ribbon committee, which, in the wrong hands, would make it its first order of business to question not only the ZTE deal but why the Department of Justice had declared the whole deal kosher.

An administration moving heaven and earth to prevent any of its senatorial critics from sitting on the Commission on Appointments, where they could question the fitness of Angelo Reyes for the Department of Energy or Lito Atienza for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is one that won’t let justice get in the way of keeping Trillanes from showing up in the same session hall graced by the presence of Honasan, Zubiri and that exemplar of judiciousness, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. It wouldn’t let him be there for the State of the Nation Address, it won’t let him go to work and it certainly won’t let a verdict be rendered. It will only keep him in limbo.

To think that he’s one of our few officials whose mandate isn’t in doubt. Justice is blind, indeed.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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