‘Nation loses soul when law becomes instrument of injustice’
BAGUIO CITY — Saying a “nation loses its soul when the law becomes an instrument of injustice,” former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday described the acquittal of former Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. of plunder charges as the latest “legal abomination” plaguing Philippine society.
Speaking at a forum commemorating the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here, Sereno said Revilla’s acquittal came at a time when “people have started to believe that the law is being used against them, given the prevalence of violent deaths due to the Duterte administration’s drug war.”
“How we have seen evil at its most hard core [and] our sense of justice assaulted as if government and laws exist only for the powerful, who may be both corrupt or vengeful, [while] professing a love for the people but demonstrating no fear of God,” she said.
Demand from the Creator
“Justice is a demand from the Creator himself, thus the very sad episode in this nation’s history when we all heard the decision of the Sandiganbayan a few days ago acquitting Sen. Ramon Revilla of the charges of plunder,” Sereno said.
“That encapsulates the latest legal abomination that has been created in the last two years. It is a dagger stroke to the heart of justice,” she said.
After a trial that lasted two years, the Sandiganbayan First Division on Friday acquitted Revilla of the charge that he pocketed P224.5 million in kickbacks from fictitious projects financed from his share of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a pork barrel that channeled funds to congressional districts.
Lawyer Richard Cambe, his former chief of staff, and businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam, were found guilty and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.
The ruling drew scorn from legal experts, who said the pork barrel scam was a conspiracy among the accused so that if one was guilty, all were guilty as well.
“[Sandiganbayan] Justice Efren de la Cruz spoke about the glaring lack of justice when the majority required secret crimes to be proven on all points by direct evidence,” Sereno said, adding that this was an “impossible standard of proof” that led to the dismissal of the charges against Revilla.
Return the loot
The court ruled that all the accused must return the P124.5 million allegedly pocketed by Cambe, but Revilla said on Monday that the charges against him were just invented, indicating that he did not agree with that part of the ruling.
Speaking at Bacoor City Hall in Cavite, his home province, Revilla also vowed to clean up his family’s name.
“I did not steal even a centavo from the people,” Revilla said.
His legal woes, however, are not yet over, as he is still facing 16 charges of graft over the alleged diversion of P517 million in his PDAF share to foundations controlled by Napoles.
He is out on P480,000 bail.
International Human Rights Day should have been “a time of rejoicing” in the country, which was hailed by the world for peacefully unseating dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, Sereno said.
The Edsa People Power Revolt showed that “good can conquer evil,” she said.
War on drugs
But the country is dealing with situations where “the very weapons the taxpayers’ money purchased for the Armed Forces and the police are being turned against the people, when the intelligence funds of [the] government are used to hound dissent and oppress political enemies, [and] when [accused] plunderers are allowed to go free by unreasoned court decisions,” Sereno said.
The war on drugs started it all, with wide support from
people who voted President Rodrigo Duterte into office, she said.
But polls show that this public support “is not support for the manner with which it (drug war) is being conducted nor its outcome,” she added.
The polls, Sereno said, show “a great majority want suspects to be captured alive, not gunned down.”
‘Unjust, already evil’
The crackdown on illegal drugs has become “unjust,” she said. “It is already evil.”
Sereno said no one would disagree that a campaign to end drug trafficking and drug abuse should be undertaken.
But a good number of institutions, including the courts, have expressed “disapproval of cases when authorities ignore due process, when they act against people on a drug watch list despite the absence of sufficient factual basis, and for direct forensic evidence of rubouts,” she said.
“If those who expect to be protected by the law are themselves its victims, then what else can you call law but an instrument of injustice? What is the recourse of people?” she asked. —With a report from Krissy Aguilar
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