PHILIPPINES: Maguindanao massacre case demonstrates the delusion of the existence of a justice system


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

It does not take much time for any rational person to agree that the families and the victims of the Maguindanao massacre must obtain justice. Anything less is unacceptable. The sheer evil that the perpetrators demonstrated in killing 57 innocent people, 32 of whom were journalists; and to disappear one person, in the manner that is already widely known, obviously stimulates outrage and condemnation.

But to demand for justice must also involve conscious thinking as to whether the institutions of justice to whom these demands are addressed can deliver it in a real sense. It is madness and foolishness for one to demand justice knowing full well that it is something that could not possibly be given. It is nothing less than self deception for a person to believe that something can be created from nothing. Water cannot be squeezed from boulders; nor can boulders be softened by hammering.

Demands that are detached from reality will have no real contribution and are meaningless when attempting to afford redress to victims. It rather perpetuates, consciously or otherwise, the delusion of something that is not there. To make demands without any regard as to whether they would make sense in reality is nothing less than echoing popular demands, to satisfy a person or a group’s desire of having supported a cause. This is the usual gesture by politicians to show solidarity as they gain more by supporting rather than ignoring popular causes. If this is done to sustain interest in a massacre that most Filipinos could not fathom, that could still be done as it appears logical, but it should have been more on the realities and substance. What made this wrong is the denial to acknowledge what is reality.

The quest for justice must confront head-on the realities. Witnesses and families of the victims are being bought, over a hundred suspects remain at large, the criminal justice system allows out of court settlements, the continuing lack of protection to families, journalists and persons who are testifying and the repeated delays in court hearings that are endemic in Philippine courts is allowing this to happen. The quest must not also place limits on the punishment imposed upon the perpetrators, but should also have a clear judgement on the certainty that the perpetrators have committed the crime. That they would be convicted based on the evidence that the police and the prosecutors have collected in establishing their guilt; not due to popular demands and the public pressure and political consideration that is prevalent in political cases, like the Abadilla Five case.

If that case has taught us anything it has revealed that in the Philippines, cases are often decided not because of their merit but rather political pressure and consideration. The more pressure is applied, the more likely the possibility of redress for victims and punishment to perpetrators. Thus, in reality the system of justice functions contrary to how most people in developed systems of justice thought it should be. The question must be: can this type of institution of justice be considered competent, impartial and effective? Can this system of justice function on its own without pressure? No. If it is the contrary of what makes a system exist in a real sense, the country does not have it.

While it is easy for all to agree on demanding justice, that the perpetrators of the massacre must be punished and that murders of this magnitude must not happen again, but there is no real certainty that justice will be done. The people know full well that the case will not be resolved any time soon; not even in ten years to come. The journalists, the lawyers, witnesses, the widows and families of the dead also know this to be the case.

In the Maguindanao massacre hearing, the failure and inability of the police and the prosecutors–for example, of having all the accused arrested, the collection of forensic evidence, the DNA of disappeared victim Reynaldo Momay; the failure of the prosecution to admit a murdered witness to the Witness Protection Programme before he was killed, would draw negligible attention. But these failures have already rendered the delays of the trial of other accused due to them not being arrested and read with charges in court. The murder case of Momay could not be filed in court because his family do not have his body. The accounts of the murdered witness will never be heard in court. These types of failures will obviously have a consequence to the prosecution of the case.

Even the failure of the police to arrest the remaining accused is incredible. Part of the province has, for over a year now, been placed under a questionable State of Emergency. It is also in Mindanao where the largest military contingents are often deployed–who also share intelligence information with the police in arresting wanted persons; yet they fail to arrest them. This illustrates the incompetence of the law enforcement agencies. They are capable of arresting in no time at all ordinary persons and file fabricated charges on them in other cases; but they are incapable of arresting an accused in a high profile case.

Political trials are common in Philippine courts. The system of justice is not likely to function without pressure being applied. Thus, the more politically known the case is more the likelihood of having the case heard in court according to ‘legality’. However, this type of leverage on how the system functions is absent to the ordinary people involved in ordinary criminal cases. Thus, the system of justice itself perpetuates double standards in court cases. This explains the caution of “not to be complacent” and “of being vigilant” because the people know full well the system cannot function on its own.

The reality also remains that this same judicial system has failed to obtain justice and punish the perpetrators of the 78 killings of journalists since 1986. Of these cases, only two–the case of Edgar Damalerio and Marlene Esperat–are known to have been partly resolved. Thus, this outright failure could not simply be described as an elusive justice but illustrates the impossibility of justice being obtained. The manner in which the existing system of justice function reveals that it is not capable of delivering justice. However, there is still the delusion that it is exists. The people are trapped in a society where the choice of having nothing still appears plausible.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
Asian Human Rights Commission
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998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) – 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) – 2698-6367
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