Carvajal: Mammon is king

Orlando Carvajal

IT WAS such a brutal display of arrogant and evil power that it is hard to imagine a verdict other than guilty for the perpetrators of this horrible and dastardly crime, the worst political violence in Philippine history.

Yet in our flawed criminal justice system acquittal, however remote it may seem, is still a possibility. We have a two-tiered justice system, swift and tight for the poor, slow and loose for the rich.

The recent acquittals of the Marcoses on two cases of graft showcase how this system works. In these cases only a preponderance of evidence was needed for a guilty verdict. Yet after decades of trial the rich and powerful Marcos political family was acquitted for lack of evidence.

No, we are not talking corruption on the part of personnel of the court. There probably was insufficient evidence simply because the Marcos family has the money and the power to erase all traces of their crime, intimidate witnesses into not testifying or otherwise disappearing, and to hire the most technically brilliant lawyers money can buy.

In a murder case, however, not mere preponderance of evidence but proof beyond reasonable doubt is required for a guilty verdict. So, how much easier is it for smart highly-paid lawyers to leave a reasonable doubt when their clients, the Ampatuans, are as rich and as powerful in Maguindanao as the Marcoses are in the Ilocos?

Again we are not talking corruption on the part of court personnel. It is simply that the most competent of prosecutors cannot present evidences and witnesses that have vanished into thin air and neither can the most honest of judges factor into his/her decision crucial evidence or testimony that never reached the court.

Anyway, my musings are now moot and academic because the verdict of guilty on the principal suspects has been promulgated together with their sentence of reclusion perpetua without parole. Yet it is not over because their lawyers have notified the court of their intention to file an appeal within 15 days. How long the appeal will take remains to be seen.

Indeed justice was served today (Thursday). The proceedings nevertheless highlighted the need for systemic reforms. One is a comprehensive overhaul of our criminal justice system to make it both efficient (swift and expeditious) and effective (equally fair to poor and rich defendants or plaintiffs).

Another is a constitutional ban to the rule of political dynasties over the whole country or any of its regions. It is a fact of life in the Philippines that rich and powerful political families get away with murder, literally speaking, for the very simple and ironic reason that in this devout Muslim-Christian country, neither Christ nor Allah is king. Mammon is.