Maguindanao massacre tests Phil. justice system

November 24, 2010
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

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

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

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

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.

# # #

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.
law and justice foundation,law and justice symbol,law justice and morality,law or justice 1988,relationship between law and justice,difference between law and justice,law and justice careers,law and justice essay law and justice foundation,law and justice symbol,law justice and morality,law or justice 1988,relationship between law and justice,difference between law and justice,law and justice careers,law and justice essay