Thursday, August 4, 2005 
OPINION
    
   
     
Four years ago, I wrote a column which my editor aptly entitled, "Blind, deaf and dumb justice." I had taken exception to the decision of a Special Third Division of the Court of Appeals ordering a Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge to dismiss the petition of the Department of Justice to reopen what is popularly known as the
Kuratong Baleleng massacre case against Panfilo Lacson and some 17 other policemen.

      That the CA decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court was cold comfort, because the RTC judge to whom the case was assigned dismissed the case again anyway (without hearing any of the new witnesses or evidence, mind you) on the ground that there was insufficient evidence that 11 suspected members of the Kuratong Baleleng gang were summarily executed - in other words, no crime had been committed!

      That these people were handcuffed at the time, that they bore no gunpowder burns on their hands, that all the bullet holes were going into and none out of the van, that they all died but not a single policeman was wounded in the "shoot-out," the judge considered as insufficient evidence. That has to qualify as another example of dumb, deaf, and blind justice.

      And now comes yet another example of what I believe is a similar kind of (in)justice, this time, unfortunately, perpetrated by no less than the Supreme Court. I refer to the case against Paco Larranaga, et al., the so called "Chiong Seven."

      It was bad enough that Judge Martin Ocampo, after having conducted what can only be called a travesty of a trial (There were many flaws, but one should suffice: What else can you call a trial where the principal defendant, Paco, was not allowed to take the witness stand?), found six of the seven accused guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention and sentenced them double life imprisonment terms (for six of the seven).

      But the Supreme Court not only affirmed Ocampo's decision, but increased the penalty to death! Why? Because it considered the offense not only kidnapping and serious illegal detention, but homicide and rape as well. This, in spite of the fact that Ocampo, in his decision, said he could not include the charge of murder because based on the evidence, or lack of it, he did not believe the body that was presented to the court as belonging to one of the Chiong sisters was, in fact, hers (no pictures of the face were presented; dental records were not matched; her brother, when he went to identify the victim, said it was not; etc.). To quote: "The serious doubt is whether that corpse was Marijoy Chiong . . . it has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Marijoy Chiong had been raped and killed by the accused." 

      What evidence the Supreme Court used to raise the offense to include homicide and rape, it did not say in its decision. 

      Obviously, Paco Larranaga's defense lawyers (Sedfrey Ordoņez, Fely Arroyo, Sandra Coronel) were quick to point this (and other major shortcomings) out in their motion for reconsideration. But when asked to comment, the Solicitor General's office, also taking a lot of liberties with the facts, claimed that Larranaga's failure to testify in his defense was a dead giveaway that he was guilty - or legalese words to that effect. In any event, the SC has just affirmed "with finality" the death sentence on Paco Larranaga and some of his co-accused.

      Since I was so sure that they would finally overturn themselves as well as overturn the decision of judge Ocampo, I can only say that never has my faith in the Supreme Court and the eventual triumph of justice been so shaken. And with all due respect to the SC members, who apparently were unanimous in their decision to sentence these people to death, I'm not sure their decision can stand the following tests:

      1. If the charge was murder or homicide, doesn't the law require that there be a corpus deliti - the body of the victim, as primary evidence that the crime took place? Yet, as pointed out by the defense, the police could not prove, and even the judge could not believe, that the body presented was that of one of the Chiong sisters. So how can the SC elevate the charge to homicide and rape? 

      2. In a he-says-she-says situation, where the court has to decide oh who is telling the "truth," isn't one of the criteria for such a decision the credibility of the witnesses themselves? In the Larranaga case, the star witness for the prosecution was a convicted criminal and a drug addict (shades of Jessica Alfaro in the Webb case) who had everything to gain and nothing to lose by buttressing the police theory; the witnesses for the defense were an entire class of students who wanted to testify to his presence at the cooking school that he was attending both the day of and the day after the supposed kidnapping and serious illegal detention -- they had everything to lose (they were warned not to get involved) and nothing to gain by testifying. Yet, the judge decided and the SC upheld that the prosecution witness was to be believed, presumably using a rule of evidence that an eyewitness account takes precedence over an alibi (which begs the question of credibility).

      3. Finally, what happened to that supposedly enshrined principle that an accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt? In the Larranaga case, the only way that he could have, done the dastardly deed is to have the ability to or to travel astrally --- there was no evidence that he had taken a plane to Cebu on the night of the murder and a plane back to Manila early the next morning, no evidence that he chartered (or could even pay for) a private plane. Did the Supreme Court think (as Judge Ocampo must have thought) that Larranaga was capable of that? How could that conclusion of his guilt, be "beyond reasonable doubt" by any measure whatsoever?

      Deaf, dumb and blind justice? Or something else?

NOTE:   THE ABOVE TEXT IS THE FAITHFUL REPRODUCTION OF THE ORIGINAL
                                  DOCUMENT REFORMATTED FOR  CLEARER APPRECIATION.                                        

                  HOME   INDEX   NEXT PART