The “luxurious kubols” scandal involving a number of prisoners including prominent suspected drug lords at the Philippine penitentiary prison in Muntinlupa shows the real face of the justice system in the country. Elsewhere in the country, out of reach of the Manila media, the system of special treatment of “well-known” and “influential” prisoners is a common sight and an open secret.
Social inequality in our justice system is manifested in many ways. Cases filed against influential persons will take a while amidst wrangling of legalities depending on how much can you afford the services of the top-caliber lawyers while the unfortunate poor accused who can only afford the services of the public lawyers are languishing in jails and some even serving beyond their prison sentences because they don’t a lawyer to represent them.
I have been witnessed how the justice system is being run. My father Fernando Baldomero jailed in 1993 for crimes of rebellion was jailed for two years. Charges were brought against him and many others as suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels charged with common criminal crimes, but were later converted to rebellion when several human rights lawyers were able to convince the court that complex crime charges should not be filed to those who are fighting for a cause against the government (see Hernandez Doctrine). He was released two years later, after suffering numerous instances of (mental and physical) torture.
Years after he was released, he was again charged in 2004, for the crime of arson, and then murder, despite him being a public official in our barangay and even run for a municipal post as a town councilor. His charges were in Guimbal, Iloilo, and Sibalom, Antique hundreds of kilometers away from our home. He was not given a chance to answer the charges against him at the Prosecutor’s level, was arrested because he did not know he was charged, and jailed for many months.
My father cries of harassment. Charges are being filed against him, vilified on the radio by the military, because of his association with the left. In all his cases he was proven innocent and all charges were dismissed by the courts.
Despite being an elected official of our town, two years after he was released, he was again charged for the murder of a punong barangay in Iloilo, this time in a different name, Francisco Baldomero, the name President Noynoy Aquino mentioned in his state of the nation address in 2010 after my father was gunned down by two men riding in a motorcycle.
We were able to find lawyers for my father when he was incarcerated. Although human rights lawyers don’t charge a fee, the financial tool of traveling from Aklan to Iloilo, then to Antique is high and other expenses needed for his legal battle are affecting us. His home business was left unattended and my family especially our youngest brother has to suffer.
After his death, we were left in limbo, on the status of the investigation the police conducted, how the prosecutor’s office, and later the court is handling the case since, unlike my father we don’t have the connections. We even fear that my father’s killer is just around the corner since no one is arrested and no one’s interested to arrest someone.
Hearing the news of what has happened in Bilibid, is not new. But the angst we have to suffer, the feeling of losing hope, and trust in the Justice system that is supposed to be blind, not giving favor to anyone and exacting justice to any crime.
The hearing of many cases either related to my father, or to other people I know, that was also shelved due to lack of witnesses, the incapacity of the police and other security agencies to investigate, that will result in the charging a false guy, or the wrong suspect is a common occurrence.
Those who have amassed the wealth and gained power can easily circumvent the rules, the law, the courts, and although incarcerated can enjoy the amenities, privileges, and protection of those who should incarcerate them equally among other prisoners charged with the same crime, it appears that instead of suffering for their crime they can convert the prison as their own their villa, their vacation spot, that they can go out anytime, or be arrested instead in a hospital.
The justice system is sick and it needs an overhaul. But it is not easy, since the system that exists is only a reflection of a sick societal system that we have been letting propagate for a long time.