The Long View: The Untouchables

The Long View
The Untouchables


By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:21:00 01/26/2009


ITS a pity Clint Eastwood’s film, “Changeling,” wasn’t widely shown domestically. The film tells the horrifying – and truly traumatizing, because true – story of Christine Collins, a Los Angeles mother whose son disappeared on March 10, 1928. Five months later, the police presented her with a boy they claimed was her son; when she disputed the identity of the boy, the police tried to discredit her and even committed her to an insane asylum. A pastor interested in her case from the start launched a kind of People Power and what unfolded was a great political scandal when Collins was proven right in truly mind-boggling circumstances.

Essentially, policemen eager to solve a PR problem forced a non-solution on a citizen who refused to be intimidated; they responded by viewing the citizen as an enemy; a combination of public pressure – trial in the court of public opinion – as well as judicial findings – the court of law – was required to achieve a semblance of justice.

And so, the movie provides an insight into the perils of the kind of social conceit in our society that insists, when it comes to the vigilante-like enthusiasms of people like the PDEA agents in the news, that so long as someone is a decent, upright citizen, he or she has nothing to fear and calling for caution only serves to promote the interests of the evildoers in society.

People who suffer from this conceit have obviously never encountered cases of ordinary, decent, upright citizens who become the targets of official hostility or extortion for one reason or another. Which is why I’d suggest they take the time to watch “Changeling” which offers up basic lessons on the arrogance of power, the dangers of subscribing to the notion that decent, innocent people have nothing to fear from those who wield authority and the role public opinion plays in tempering the stupidity and corruption of those in power.

In the past I wrote that our leaders from the President on down are liable before the court of public opinion as the court of law; where public opinion comes in, whatever it determines deserves respect because it cannot deprive leaders of what the court of law can exclusively decide – whether someone loses life, liberty or property. Only fitness for office is properly subject to judgment by the court of public opinion.

So when life, liberty, property are at risk, then the protection of the law from unwarranted arrests, detentions, as well conviction from politically or financially motivated prosecution, must be demanded. And all three are at risk when it comes to individuals accused of complicity in drug dealing.

The harsh reality is that not everyone who is accused, is guilty; while not everyone who is guilty, ever gets accused. The chances, in fact, are high that the truly guilty will never be accused while the innocent having to bear the brunt of a corruption-laden prosecution is a fact of life. This is because too many in high places are possibly not only on the take, but involved in the importation, manufacture and distribution of drugs.

Ever wonder what might happen if a really hard look was taken into say, the ruling coalition’s network of local government stalwarts?

The public knows this, just as the more well-intentioned among officialdom knows this, to the extent that sometimes, even well-entrenched political families have ended up divided on the question of the rivers of money that flow from the drug trade. The result is political will is too dangerous a thing to exercise when it comes to the illegal drug trade. Hasn’t it been suggested that what is happening is that instead of being merely on the take, officials have aggressively taken over these rackets themselves?

The government is caught between the vigilante zeal of the Magdalo and other officers now detailed to the PDEA, and a justice system widely perceived to be bogged down in inefficiency, hobbled by incompetence and that therefore operates from a general assumption on the part of the public that when policemen, agents, and prosecutors aren’t actually on the take, they are liable to be overruled by the politicians. The result is a kind of institutional cannibalism, where the system gobbles up those with good intentions.

This is because in a society that looks to the top for direction, the top is engaging in a non-solution doomed to fail. So long as the national leadership puts PDEA in the hands of soldiers, it will never be able to achieve results in a manner acceptable to civilians. This is a job that calls for an Elliot Ness, not a George S. Patton. Whether it’s Dionisio Santiago the guy hot for his job, or Jovito Palparan, the wrong people are being tapped.

The government’s policy is a cynical one: tap the vigilante energies of the Magdalo and channel them into low-level but socially satisfying chases, which keep them from targeting the top echelons of government. It plays into the social prejudices of the broad public but ignores the really powerful players. Hunting down parasitic socialites plays to the gallery; rumbling, but not rounding up, politicians in cahoots with drug and gambling lords, or who are the mafia lords themselves, however, are idle or politically motivated threats. The ruling coalition has protected its own from any scrutiny and accountability so far; this cannot change going into Charter change or the 2010 elections.

Yet we all know the saying that justice delayed is justice denied. A thirst for justice, combined with frustration over the slowness with which the justice system works, and mistrust of officialdom’s capacity to render justice in the first place, inspire vigilantism and adulation for vigilantes. Which makes having these officials and their subordinates being judge, jury and executioner in the effort to clamp down on illegal drugs.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.