Seares: Sparing lawmakers from president’s probe or ridicule: Just let justice apparatus work.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

PRESIDENTIAL Spokesman Harry Roque may have slipped metaphorically on a banana peel and fallen on his face in some Malacañang corridor when he talked of the law to explain why President Duterte cannot investigate or publicly shame senators and congressmen and congresswomen for corruption.

Names of local officials -- including retired police general and former Daanbantayan, Cebu mayor Vicente Loot -- and law enforcers and judges linked to illegal drugs were read in 2018 by the president on national media. But lawmakers who allegedly received kickbacks from contractors are being treated differently, it would seem. Roque said this week they wouldn’t be investigated or scorned in public.

Harry Roque’s defenses

Roque cited (a) the president’s authority over officials and employees of the executive branch only and the independence of the legislature, and (b) the difficulty of proving corruption in the legislative branch.

Does separation of powers bar the president from investigating senators and House members for corruption? As chief enforcer of the law (who shall “execute its laws, do justice to every man”), the president shall direct the apparatus of arrest and prosecution against any official or employee of the government, whatever the branch to which he belongs. The basic requirement is only that due process of law must be observed.

Not above the law

Other than the few cases under which legislators and some judges cannot be questioned, arrested or prosecuted, except in the manner provided by the Constitution, senators and House members are just like other citizens: they are not above the law.

The grant to Congress the power to discipline its members is not a shield against accountability under the process of law enforcement and prosecution.

Roque seems to be offering the public a modified concept of immunity from the president’s vaunted hawk-like scrutiny (“no wrongdoing can escape his detection”) and low threshold of tolerance for graft (“a mere whiff of the scandal”). His idea of separation of powers must befuddle lawyers and law students who learned something else about it in law school.

Stain infects all

The executive department filed plunder charges against senators and House members for the P10-billion fraud on PDAF or pork barrel funds in 2013. Police, NBI and Department of Justice were tapped to arrest and prosecute Senator Leila de Lima, jailed since February 2017. No one has wailed about separation of powers. During any election campaign, no presidential wannabe says he will lick corruption but only in the executive department. A stain of corruption in any of its sections infects the entire government.

It borders on the absurd if the president, who oversees the law enforcers, must keep his hands off corruption in other sectors of government beyond his own executive branch.

It is his job to see to it that the laws are enforced, violations investigated, and culprits prosecuted anywhere in the country. During the election campaign, the wannabe-president doesn’t promise to lick corruption only in the executive department.

The matter of evidence

In defending Duterte’s move not to investigate or publicly scorn lawmakers, Roque said it is tough to prove corruption against members of Congress while it is much easier to gather evidence against police, PDEA agents, prosecutors, judges and mayors.

But then it was not strength or weakness of evidence that must have moved President Duterte to do the ritual of public shaming.

Many, if not most, of those named from the president’s list were not charged before prosecutor or judge purportedly because there was “no probable cause” and not enough evidence against them. Case-building after the public accusation must have failed.

Substitute or inducement

The public shaming often became substitute punishment for a crime that prosecutors could not prove in court. Or was it just a ploy, if not a threat, to stop the suspected crime activity?

A number of those in the list turned up dead, apparent execution victims, or frightened to death when, critics allege, neither the case-building nor the public ridicule worked.

The public wouldn’t want the suspect, official or employee of whichever department, stripped of civil liberties or denied equal protection of the law.

Public shaming -- in the form of a placard strung on the neck of a suspect at the public plaza or the president’s threat to kill as the suspect’s name is read on news platforms -- is punishment one can’t find in the statutes.

It is cruel and unusual punishment in many societies, more so when not applied to special people, such as the lawmakers in Congress.