Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lernaean Hydra: the battle against impunity and its many layers

I’d say it was a pretty masterful job all round, wouldn’t you? I mean, it's positively breathtaking: the Supreme Court, COMELEC, Congress, the party-lists and computerized balloting, not to mention the warlords, the military and the police? Erap no longer the lone administration spoiler with Manny Villar (among others) now apparently in tow as well? Yes, indeed -- I’d have to say the Palace had all its bases covered. No doubt about it: a pretty thorough rigging all round.

I know I’ve been somewhat scarce of late. It started out with a laborious (if ultimately ineffectual) attempt to make sense of COMELEC’s party-list inclusions and exclusions, as well as the Supreme Court’s decision not to require public officials to relinquish their current positions if they hoped to run for elective posts in 2010. By the time the Ampatuan massacre had taken place, I was in a quiet state of rage. The overweening arrogance and sense of impunity with which Andal Ampatuan, Jr and his people comported themselves, COMELEC’s cavalier decision to make Shariff Aguak the site of the provincial capitol (where Toto Mangudadatu would have had to file his candidacy but which happened to be in Ampatuan territory, despite the well-publicized rift between the two clans), and the AFP’s decision not to escort the Mangudadatu convoy deeply troubled me, particularly in view of what it all implied about the central government’s role in the entire massacre. And what of those arms caches found in the properties of the Ampatuans, clearly bearing DND markings?

In the aftermath, as lurid and gory details began to emerge in swift and unabashed succession, a forensic anthropologist’s nightmare would ensue, in large part due to the poor handling and contamination of the victims’ remains and the massacre site itself: http://pcij.org/stories/report-of-the-humanitarian-and-fact-finding-mission-to-maguindanao/

Worse, the charge of rebellion in the context of martial law suggested that the offences were bailable and the perpetrators could still be granted amnesty. It was no wonder, then, that as of March of this year, the Philippines had already ranked sixth in the Global Impunity Index (
http://cpj.org/reports/2009/03/getting-away-with-murder-2009.php); immediately after the massacre, of course, the country quickly became the “worst on record” for journalists worldwide: http://cpj.org/2009/11/maguindanao-death-toll-worst-for-press-in-recent-h.php. So, apart from Senators Biazon and Gordon, why were not more Senators and Congressmen calling for an investigation into the source/s of the arms caches that had suddenly been “discovered” in Maguindanao?

By the time COMELEC had announced that Grace Padaca, Ed Panlilio, Brig Gen Danny Lim and Danton Remoto had been disqualified, the burning question needed to be asked: could it be that
all these institutions were in GMA’s pocket? Where does a nation turn to when its leaders, lawmakers, judiciary and law enforcement personnel routinely flout -- rather than uphold -- the rule of law? Were there anthropological underpinnings to this culture of impunity or was it purely a function of economic scarcity?

You can well understand why the sheer scale of this Lernaean Hydra
(http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/LernaeanHydra.html) had left me at an utter loss. To many, of course, much of this was nothing new: indeed, a cursory sweep of recent history indicated that the most egregious offenses have
tended to be swept under the rug altogether: US abandonment of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation; MacArthur and the “collaborators” hailed as heroes (indeed, with Manuel Roxas eventually becoming President); Cory not pursuing Marcos and his henchmen for the ill-gotten wealth and human rights violations; FVR remaining remarkably quiet about Danding; and GMA pardoning Erap despite his precedent-setting conviction. As my buddy Mac mournfully observed one evening: “These are the big-time cases, Lil — no wonder the little guys are so sure they can get away with murder: they can. The precedents are set.”

Surreal in the extreme, you will agree, to be listening to a congressional debate about martial law led by Enrile, of all people, the guy whose fake ambush had been the initial excuse for Marcos' declaration. Not to mention all the coup attempts he backed against Cory, indirectly stunting the country’s economic recovery. Hadn’t he even been charged with rebellion at one point? I suppose one could argue that this qualified him as an expert of sorts…

But what exactly was going on here, I had to wonder? Could the Constitution be part of the problem? Should more of these crimes be considered statutory?
From where I sit, it would appear that the higher courts tend to be constantly clogged with cases that could effectively be addressed in the lower courts. USAID goes on to suggest that it is not only the backlog of cases in the courts but the fact that legal personnel are grossly underpaid that explains the nature of this corruption trap:


It would also seem to be the case that there is a
shortage of lawyers, at least those who are willing to practice in trial courts.

Philippine law

Now I am certainly no lawyer but I
have spent some time struggling with various bills and legal systems in an attempt to understand our various options in the Ampatuan case. I am also blessed enough to have friends who happen to be lawyers and who have remained remarkably patient with me despite my repeated badgering… But I should add that I don’t have free and easy access to any international lawyers (both of the ones I know happen to be in the Hague at the moment and are swamped with the Milosevic case) so I have had to extrapolate on my own. I would argue, however, that the law is not rocket science, after all, and should be accessible to any citizen with enough concern and commitment, so here’s my take…

This piece was largely inspired by an increasing sense of inquietude at the thought that the perpetrators (apart from Andal, Jr, who was charged before the establishment of martial law and therefore with far more binding crimes than “rebellion”, unlike Andal, Sr, the actual mastermind of the operation) might eventually be granted amnesty. Of course, they would be charged with crimes punishable under the Constitution, the Revised Penal Code and other criminal laws. But
the Revised Penal Code defines rebellion as “rising publicly and taking arms against the Government for the purpose of removing allegiance from said Government the territory of the Republic of the Philippines or any part thereof…or depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives.” As it is, rebellion is notoriously difficult to prove, but it can certainly be argued that it has variously been committed by: a.) specific Muslim separatists attempting to secede; b.) certain communist rebels attempting to violently overthrow the government; and c.) a handful of soldier rebels trying to unseat the Philippine president. But by Gloria’s primary allies in Maguindanao, to whom she remains eternally indebted for those large-scale election "victories" in 2004 and 2007? Hardly.

Unfortunately, bail remains a matter of right for non-capital offenses, although there is good reason to believe that Judge Solis-Reyes may refuse to grant it simply in deference to public outrage. Whether she is safer if the perpetrators remain incarcerated or if they are eventually freed is a matter of opinion, of course. There is after all a fairly sizeable Ampatuan army still out there able to carry out the family’s bidding either way…

I am told that amnesty remains unlikely, however. For instance, we can grant "amnesty" to insurgents who lay down their arms or rogue members of the military who decide to go back into the government fold. But the perpetrators have already been charged, so that does not appear to be an option (unless the charges are thrown out altogether because of the ultimately unconstitutional establishment of martial law). On the other hand, what may very well happen (and this is something we need to remain vigilant about) is a presidential pardon after the convictions have been made. This would not happen during
this presidency but in the next one, since such trials tend to take an inordinately long time, as many of you know. All the more reason why we need to be wary of Gibo Teodoro, who has brilliantly tried to distance himself from the arms caches and private armies that burgeoned wildly in Maguindanao under his watch at the DND. Similarly, highly placed (and very reliable sources) have informed me that Villar is a GMA spoiler, and that he plans to push for charter change as soon as he gets into office. GMA, once again the invisible hand, plans to sit as Prime Minister if and when this happens. Like any good businesswoman, she has simply placed her bets on several horses at the same time, so as to ensure victory no matter what.

I would therefore be interested in hearing what the remaining candidates –- Noynoy and Bro Eddie, in particular –- have to say about how they plan to make these perpetrators accountable. A lackadaisical pandering to popularity and big money, which would entail a presidential pardon, is non-negotiable, at least in so far as my personal vote is concerned. The massacre is simply far too gruesome and unprecedented to remain unpunished.

Hope for the future

GMA recently signed Republic Act 9851, which is widely regarded as a milestone for human rights:


Of course, “w
ith a reported 1,013 extra-judicial killings, 202 enforced disappearances, 223 political prisoners, and 1,036 incidences of torture since 2001, the Arroyo regime's record rivals that of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos and has drawn sharp criticism from the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Karapatan national human rights alliance group.” Oplan Bantay Laya alone, the government’s anti-insurgency programme, has already led to the loss of hundreds of human lives. How the government will deal with the issue of command responsibility over crimes against humanity (such as the Ampatuan massacre), which is specified in the law, remains to be seen.

There have been a number of other initiatives as well, although many have yet to be passed into law. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago recently presented Senate Bill Number (SBN) 1861 in the Senate (An Act Defining and Penalizing Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law and Other Serious International Crimes, Adopting Corresponding Principles of Criminal Responsibility Applying Universal Jurisdiction):

SBN 2669, which has yet to be approved as well, further aims to define and penalize crimes against international humanitarian law: the bill consolidates Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s bill with SBN 1446 by Senator Richard Gordon, SBN 583 by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, SBN 1542 by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri and SBN 2589 by Senator Manny Villar. The counterpart bills in the Lower House include HBN 1748 by Representative Roilo Golez, HBN 2591 by Representative Simeon Datumanong and HBN 3002 by Representative Rufus Rodriguez.

So: the legislative efforts at the national level are apparently there. But the point is that
the new law (RA 9851), at least in spirit and intent, will theoretically protect the rights and security of innocent civilians who are exposed to internal armed conflicts (that is, if the executive branch and its generals are ready to enforce the law against themselves). There’s the rub, see...

International options

In fact, we’ve had a pretty weak record internationally when it comes to international human rights and humanitarian law. Now Leila de Lima, whom I respect greatly (although I would argue that her energies are best spent not on unnecessary worry about Andal, Jr having been bonked on the head by an overly animated journalist), has said that, if this case is not adequately resolved by Philippine courts, the Commission on Human Rights will not hesitate to present it to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague. I could not make sense of the reference simply because the ICJ deals with conflicts between states, while the International Criminal Court (ICC) deal with conflicts within them. Clearly, this is an intra-state issue and not an inter-state one, in which case the appropriate body would be the ICC.

The Philippines
has signed the Rome Statute to the ICC but regrettably has not ratified it. To his credit, Erap did sign the treaty but, when GMA came into power in 2001, she did not give the Senate the opportunity to ratify it. Her government reportedly did not want to become a member because of fears that allegations of human rights violations might be made against them in international tribunals. But the even more compelling reason, of course, has to do with our symbiotic ties to the US.
More specifically, the American Servicemen Protection Act stipulates that countries that have become members of the ICC will no longer receive US military aid. In addition, any government that detains an American soldier and files a case against him/her before the ICC has to be prepared for the fact that the US will undertake military action to free its soldier. Clearly this is about currying favor in order to obtain US aid, on the one hand, just as it demonstrates the masterful strategies the US tends to deploy in matters of bilateral “exchange,” on the other.

The only other international option for now appears to be the UN Human Rights Council, specifically the International Protocol to the
International Covenant to Civil and Political Rights: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/procedure.htm

While it arguably has limited enforcement mechanisms,
several countries have already amended their laws as a result of decisions made by the Committee. In a number of cases, prisoners have been released and compensation paid to victims of human rights violations. In 1990, the Committee instituted a mechanism to assist it in monitoring more closely whether states parties have given effect to its final decisions, and it has been encouraging to note that they have been largely cooperative.

Of course, the Covenant requires that domestic remedies be first exhausted. In this case, therefore, the Philippines would have the obligation to prosecute the perpetrators of the massacre to begin with. If the convictions are deemed inadequate, any injured parties (survivors, relatives of loved ones) would have the right to present their case before the international body. Karen Vertido, a victim of an alleged rape in 1996, for example, eventually chose to present her case to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) after the presiding judge in the Philippines decided to acquit her attacker. While the case remains pending for now, it will eventually be resolved, reminding us that this is an option available to ordinary citizens all over the world. Technically, a strong case could be made not for genocide or state-sponsored violence, but for designating the Ampatuan massacre as a crime against humanity.

Additional recommendations:

1.) An examination of the massacre case files suggests that there had been systemic favoritism towards the Ampatuans and government mishandling throughout. Indeed, had so many journalists not fallen – had the victims “merely” been Muslims, say -- the public outcry might not have been quite as vociferous. Education and training programmes for trial court judges and government personnel (specifically for victims of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, dealing with threats from the accused and cultural impartiality in general) are therefore clearly necessary. A monitoring system for trial court decisions in cases of rido and human rights atrocities should also be established to ensure their compliance with human rights conventions. Data on the number of such cases filed in prosecution offices and the courts should also be compiled and analyzed. It is further recommended that victims be provided with the right to appeal in cases of acquittal that are anchored on discriminatory grounds.

2.) Training of medical, police and military personnel is equally critical because valuable forensic evidence in this case was lost or mishandled due to a lack of technical skill. Funds will have to be allocated for providing this training since effective forensics work is at the forefront of the battle against impunity. The conditions that would allow the enforcement of the law -- its
enabling environment, as it were -- are not yet entirely in place. While additional laws could and should be passed, it is clear that we have a serious law enforcement problem as well.

The material conditions in the criminal justice system are as important, if not more so, than the mere promulgation of laws. The salaries of legal, military and medical personnel should therefore be commensurate with the type of work they routinely put in every day: otherwise, they may simply resort to corruption in order to survive. As they (trial lawyers in particular) are at the front lines of law enforcement, they should be considered to be a priority. Establishing such a system is crucial so that human rights cannot be arbitrarily ignored in cases where the government does not support the victim. Examining the process of implementating laws is even more important, in many ways, than solely monitoring legislation itself.

4.) To what can the backlog in the courts be attributed? Could more cases be turned over to the lower courts? I would be grateful for some feedback here…

5.) Education is equally vital, and the reassessment of school curricula and textbooks in terms of violence and respect for human rights may be necessary. In Muslim areas, tolerance for the realities of
rido should be re-examined, just as stereotypes about Muslims in mainstream texts should be carefully scrutinized as well. How are Muslims represented in these different contexts and what alternatives to rido are presented? Do they take into account indigenous cultures, on the one hand, and international mechanisms for conflict negotiation, on the other? Rido between two pro-government Muslim clans, on the one hand, and between an insurgent group like Abu Sayyaf and a pro-government group (whether Muslim or Christian), on the other, will also have to be clearly distinguished in these texts and in public perception itself.

6.) The Mindanao civil society statement is fairly comprehensive, and addresses such issues as the
disarmament of the CVOs, the total disbanding of the private armies of all political clans, and the call for government to uphold the constitutional provisions that ban private armed groups: http://durianpost.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/mindanao-civil-society-statement-on-the-ampatuan-massacre/

7.) Truth and reconciliation commissions have gone a long way in healing post-conflict societies like Rwanda, El Salvador and South Africa. They could theoretically have a profound impact on Philippine society because they can potentially open the national dialogue on impunity:

8.) Zero tolerance for bribery at all levels of society -- whether they are being made or accepted by lawmakers, the judiciary, government employees, candidates for public office, or members of the military and police. Media watchdogs, as well as NGOs such as Transparency International, need to highlight such exchanges as and when they happen so the public can make its own assessments. For its part, the public needs to resist the temptation to accept bribes and to choose candidates that are merely entertaining and appealing for superficial reasons. Candidates that are known for their corruption and lack of respect for human rights, however attractive, should be regarded with wariness because they are likely to recommit these self-same crimes in future contexts.

9.) Ideally, zero tolerance for impunity should be the hallmark of the next administration. Failing this, however, it is up to civil society to peacefully demonstrate in public rallies or in petitions and in the blogosphere, etc, to make sure their voices are heard. At a certain point, the government will have to take the sheer numbers into account and respond accordingly.

The Filipino-American contribution

It should be noted that the US would prefer to push for charter change because 100% foreign ownership of Philippine companies is in its interests, as opposed to the mere 40% the current Constitution allows. The US military is also primarily Republican and will no doubt support the candidate who is pro-VFA. Put rather bluntly, the potential exchange of funds from the former to the latter could be fairly sizeable indeed.

In view of the global economic crisis, the US, China and others are obviously looking for resources all over the world as well. It should be noted that the
metallic deposits in Mindanao include lead, zinc, ore, iron, copper, chromite, magnetite and gold; in fact, gold mined in the region accounts for nearly half of the national gold reserves. Mindanao also has significant oil and natural gas reserves. It therefore comes as no surprise that foreign companies have had their eye on it for some time. The fact that conflict is being fomented so as to spur the US-led global arms trade is a remote (if somewhat unthinkable) possibility. Either way, the Philippines in general, and Mindanao in particular, are strategically and geopolitically critical for the US in terms of such concerns as global terrorism (Abu Sayyaf/MILF at home, Jemah Islamiyah next door, and links to Wahabi Islam in the Middle East, a region that can be directly accessed by unpatrolled waterways in the Philippines) and the threat of China in the region, for example.

So it would make sense if the US candidate of choice were Gibo, not on the merits of his person but because of where he stands ideologically in reference to the US. But since Gibo is heavily implicated in the arms caches and private armies in Maguindanao and elsewhere, and since he has supported GMA throughout (never having once criticized her), the issue is no longer about parliamentary change but about GMA’s ambitions, which we cannot allow to flourish. Fil-Am groups in the US have petitioned for $2b of the $33b in military aid to the Philippines to be
tied to human rights. But since we do require arms for our own geopolitical and internal security, perhaps it might make more sense to request that
all aid be tied to human rights. In other words, could we make an acceptable human rights record a prerequisite for US aid in general, whether military or otherwise?

11.) Instead of direct aid alone, perhaps the US could loan equipment to the Philippine military with a maintenance agreement (i.e., the US could maintain the inventory, audit and maintenance contract, for example). This way, the Philippines would get the equipment but would be unable to sell it on the black market. This is an urgent concern because many of the arms used by warlords, as well as by the MILF and Abu Sayyaf, are often sold on the black market by rogue members of the Philippine military (as may well be the case with the Ampatuans). The Philippines could then pay a small maintenance cost and in turn would get continued upgrades in terms of equipment and technology.

12.) An independent investigation into the massacre is urgently needed, in view of the very real possibilities of a whitewash, as Rep Howard Berman’s recent US Congressional bill has demanded:

13.) Independent monitors on the ground before and during the upcoming elections will also be critical to minimize widespread cheating. Fil-Ams and the international community as a whole should continue to press for this.

14.) While the Philippines greatly appreciates the support provided by the US and other countries after typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, what is really needed in the long-term is the transfer of technology and know-how to the country. Helping us develop cutting-edge innovations and technologies -- through education, training and technology transfer -- would make us more genuinely competitive in the global market. This technology will naturally have to take into account the realities of the tropics and the specificities of Philippine conditions.

For instance, the former Subic base could be used as an investment conduit for the US and foreign private sector with a preference for small-medium green-tech solution projects (manufacturing and research, etc), targeting specific regions with additional livelihood programmes. This would allow the Philippines to leap-frog industrialization and make the regions more autonomous from the main power corporations currently supplying the entire country.

A final word.
Fareed Zakaria would describe the Philippines to be an “illiberal democracy.” As he points out, the bedrock on which democracy is built -- constitutional liberalism or the rule of law as the centrepiece of social organization itself — is far more foundationally important than voting and mere elections. We do, in fact, have a fairly decent Constitution and set of laws (although some revisions would not be unwelcome) but are ultimately weak in matters of enforcement. This is because dictatorship, impunity and corruption have tended to supersede the rule of law.

We cannot have the kind of economic development Zakaria deems necessary for the lessening of human rights violations if our leaders keep pocketing the spoils. As he so aptly put it in “The Future of Freedom”: “Modern democracies will face difficult new challenges -- fighting terrorism, adjusting to globalization, adapting to an aging society – and they will have to make their system work much better than it currently does. That means making democratic decision-making effective, reintegrating constitutional liberalism into the practice of democracy, rebuilding broken political institutions and civic associations. Perhaps most difficult of all, it requires that those with immense power in our societies embrace their responsibilities, lead and set standards that are not only legal, but
moral. Without this inner stuffing, democracy will become an empty shell, not simply inadequate but potentially dangerous, bringing with it the erosion of liberty, the manipulation of freedom, and the decay of common life.”

It is high time we chose leaders who would not allow democracy to become yet another empty shell, who have the inner stuffing to choose what is ethical over what is lucrative, and who would frown upon impunity as a crime against the ancestors who built our nation, the history that forged our consciousness and humanity as a whole.

Image: Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra, 1490s, parcel-gilt bronze, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence: http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/arts/scultpureplastic/sculpture/bigphotos/A/hercules.jpg


  1. Brilliant thoughts, as usual, Lila Shahani. But not content with that, you offer solutions. Still not content with that, you subliminally challenge the present roster of candidates and voices in the wilderness of voters and propagandists (including closet propagandists) to stand up to solutions beyond the overwhelming scream of the usual campaign slogans and jingle bites. By this blog, you offer another light to the murkiness peddled by those who (care of their PR firms and campaign managers) spit on the intellectual capacity of the common man to comprehend and measure the devil in the details.

  2. The Ampatuan Massacre exemplifies what our country will become if we don't act and don't act fast enough: a collection of islands divided into fiefdoms ruled by political tyrants and plain war lords.

    Thank you, Lila, for this incisive analysis of the national situation, and for your recommendations. They can get us started on the road to recovery.

    I agree with you: the Ampatuan Massacre, because of its nature, should be subject to the ICC or some other international tribunal. It wasn't just a simple case of multiple murder. It was indiscriminate mass murder. The only crime you had to commit to be buried with a backhoe was to take that road in Maguindanao on that fateful day.


  3. Thank u so much for these comments, guys -- I'm truly honored...

    Another comment by a dear friend who prefers to remain anonymous:

    "You are absolutely right: it was indeed a masterful job! The thing that makes is even more frightening for the country is that it was also clearly a somewhat ad hoc affair. That means that GMA has some truly masterful people in the “backroom.” The pity being, why does that kind of genius never seem to be applied to things that would actually be good for the nation as a whole?

    Of course, none of this was supposed to happen. And none of it would have happened if the president of the republic had been paying attention to her job instead of to her personal ambitions to rule forever through charter change. The stories of the pre-massacre visits to the palace by the Ampatuans as well as the very generous offers the palace made to Mangudadatu if he would give up his run for office combine to indicate that the palace & the president were well aware of a potentially troublesome situation in Maguindanao. But they weren’t paying attention. They had other things on their mind—like running for congress in Pampanga.

    So I assert that if a few of those backroom geniuses had given a little more attention to the situation in Maguindanao, the whole thing could have been avoided. But the application of that kind of attention had to wait till the situation became something that had the potential for ruining GMA’s plans. Too bad.

    One small area where I disagree with your skillful assessment is the probable resolution of the revolution charges against Ampatuan Sr. et al. The martial law proclamation was dropped with undue haste because its contention that a state of revolution existed in Maguindanao was legally unsupportable.

    Now we all know that it is hard, almost impossible in fact, to prove the charge of revolution—but it this case it will become clear that no revolution existed, so how can the whole bloody-handed lot be charged with it? I predict that at some point, the cases will simply be dismissed! There will be no need for pardons—the defense will go before the court and demand, “what revolution?” and that will be the end of it. Can they still be charged with something else? I don’t know—I’m sure there will be more legal wrangling over that, but who can say what the outcome will be?

  4. (cont...)

    Finally, I’ll say a bit about firearms forensics. Almost immediately after the massacre, within a day or two, firearms confiscated from two early suspects were pronounced to have unequivocally been used in the massacre—by the PNP. Showing that they were no dummies and could handle operations in their area, the PNP announced that one of the guns was proven to have been used in the crime based on the markings on shell casings (spent brass) found at the site of the shooting. That’s good forensics work—a method used and accepted all over the world. Ok, so out in the field, the PNP was sharp and on the job in the early days. But now, all of a sudden they have a case of the dumbs! First came the claim that the firearms confiscated from various sites could not be identified because their serial numbers “had been tampered.” (Though there was no way to hide the DoD markings on the still-crated ammunition.)

    Now, we hear that some of the weapons have the same serial numbers as AFP weapons currently in use elsewhere in the country. How can the firearms forensics people, who were so smart & competent in the beginning, have suddenly become so dumb? There are common and totally effective ways of determining the original serial number of a weapon. Why aren’t these methods being used? We have every reason to fear that the true origins of these weapons will not become public until the fix is in.

    Where are those confiscated weapons now? Who has charge over them? Who’s examining them? We can just add these questions to the many others that need to be asked and need to be answered.

    Thank you for the effort you put into this blog. It’s well-written and well-researched and points, deftly and with great clarity, to quite a number of situations that cry out for resolution."

  5. Kudos! my friend for another masterful piece. Glad to see you've rolled up your sleeves and wielded a scalpel this time, expertly incising this cadaver of a country and culture we call home, down to the minutiae details of hard data and facts that lend invaluable credence to the premise. Ending it with Hope and Recommendations (elated to see some of them) to boot..Fantastic!

    For #4, if they shut-off the bribery spigot all together the backlog of cases will take care of itself. The backlog only exists because the justices and his/her cohorts are sitting on it waiting for either party (preferrably both) to start paying bribes, the clock then starts once the first bribe is paid (like pavlovs bell, the familiar bell of the cash register makes them all salivate) culminating at the very minute the final decision is made and executed. This is also the time when the judge receives the final maximum bribe and deems that they can no longer squeeze more money from both parties for the specific case. I'm sure there are other fringe benefits that will trickle in going forward but that's it in a nutshell. Just SOP in the treacherous jungles of the halls of justice.

    This is true precisely because of your premise, they operate with impunity, and when investigating the root cause of why or how such cases of exemptions from punishment(the very definition of impunity) the first order of business is to play the game of "follow the money," as it almost always leads you to the root cause. Why do you think Mikey Arroyo proclaimed so brazenly, almost threatening in fact, to the public to "Sue me" if anyone wanted to find out the facts about his SLAN...ergo - under the blanket of impunity assured by grease money and power he will not need to worry of the truth ever being known, let alone be punished for it.

    To that end, the most powerful statement of your piece for me is "Perhaps most difficult of all, it requires that those with immense power in our societies embrace their responsibilities, lead and set standards that are not only legal, but moral."

    Thank you! once again for keeping the torch of freedom lit brightly for our nation, may others take up your call to action and demand the inviolable rights of ALL Filipinos, without exception, to live fruitful lives.

  6. Nice article.

    While you identify a lot of issues, I will zero in on the backlog in the justice system. The average court case takes at least eight years to resolve and the dockets of even the lower courts are filled with thousands of unresolved cases. One mechanism that seems to be working fine in my humble opinion is mediation. This mechanism was funded by multilateral agencies with the cooperation of the Supreme Court. A mediator cannot be a lawyer but must be a professional person such as a volunteer doctor, accountant, etc. who agrees to undergo training in mediation (the multilateral funding is being used for training these laypeople). Both sides are allowed to give their sides and speak frankly (the documents presented in mediation and whatever is discussed is inadmissible as evidence if mediation talks fail and it goes back to court) and this ups the probability of a resolution since you don't have lawyers using the usual tactics which are heavy on technicalities and even delaying tactics. Done properly, mediation can help declog court dockets. However, I would agree that the clerks of court, sherrifs, etc. and even judges can be easily corrupted by interested parties who want to delay or kill a case which is why we should really be paying these guys salaries that are high enough for them to turn down offers of bribes.

    If you look at the bright spots, you could point out that mediation can help and that sustained efforts to professionalize the PNP and the AFP since 1987 are starting to bear fruit because I do think they did act with surprising professionalism in Maguindanao once the local military and police were neutralized. However, the big problem is our damned local government code (authored by Sen. Nene Pimentel) which gives every two bit mayor in this country direct control over the police in his or her town; and this tends to degrade the professionalism of the police in the provinces especially if they feel more loyal to let's say a corrupt mayor than faraway superiors in Manila. In the case of the ARMM you could say that the Ampatuans had even more powers than the average local government executive elsewhere because of the autonomy given to the ARMM provinces, so the agreement granting autonomy needs to be reexamined. The only problem is that the hard-line elements of the MILF, Abu Sayyaf, and even elements of the MNLF would be more than happy to have an ARMM provincial government break away from the republic and join them in the underground. So simply clamping down and declaring martial law or a state of emergency for an extended period of time wouldn't work if the whole population itself became restive. The restiveness is probably mitigated somewhat because the Ampatuans are know to be abusive to the entire population. I think GMA and company realize that their best bet is to restore the whole thing to a state of normalcy as quickly as possible (which is what they have largely accomplished). I do however share your fears that the prosecution of the Ampatuans may be wasted if they are given some sort of presidential pardon by the next president. I hope not.

  7. Two things came to mind as I read through your posting and tried to follow the labyrinthine discussion: Kafka's classic "Before the Law" and Bulosan's account of the rise of 'lawyers' as a new species and tribe of powerdealers in the early years of the American colonial regime in Part One of AMERICA IS IN THE HEART! For me, the two major problems of Filipinos and the Philippines continue to be (in addition to TRAPOS whose self-reproduction is genetic, and the eternal bondedness to the USA, from which we might never be able to extricate ourselves): institutional Religion, and the Law as idea and apparatus. For the latter, the most apt figure and caricature continues to be (after the great Ferdie himself) Defensor-Santiago, irritating babbler of legalese who thinks she has swallowed Law whole and can regurgitate it and spit fragments at the slightest pretexts.

  8. Bravo for these brilliant and lucid insights, Ms Shahani. The world obviously needs more people like u.

    The entire legal system apparently needs to be overhauled. Better checks and balances, greater accountability and higher wages would certainly provide less fertile ground for corruption and impunity. Hopefully young Filipinos will also be less apathetic about their future.

    Ideally, the current crop of candidates already has policy platforms in place to address the issues you lay bare. Failing that, they can always just read your blog!

    Keep writing.

  9. Hi Lila:
    I read your article with great interest and enthusiasm. It is quite an extensive research. My opinion regarding the whole issue in our dear country is summarized on the “Final Word” of your article---Mr. Fareed Zakaria described our country to be an “illiberal democracy”. I had the chance to read the Constitution(1987) and I agree with you that our country has a decent Constitution and set of laws----banning nepotism is even covered---and they are not in a Rocket Science category. It is obvious that they are not just implemented. However, there are many notoriously intelligent individuals such as Mr. Enrile, Harvard grad,who can circumvent our laws that is so detrimental to the Filipinos –---and only serving a few including themselves.
    I strongly disagree with the part of your last sentence: “.….crime against ancestors who built our nation…..". Our ancestors are the “Typhon” and “Echidna” that gave birth to this “Lernaean Hydra”. We can start from Manuel L. Quezon who quoted that “I prefer a country run like hell by Filipinos to a country run like heaven by Americans. Because, however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.” He never thought that going to hell “might" be a one-way ticket—and underestimated the evil of the leaders who came after him. Not one leader of our country is willing to get us out of hell. Not one leader. Our ancestors just wanted to take this country from the US in order to “enslave” us. They made this country as their own playground. I can claim that it is better for our country to be under the sovereignty of the US for a long time after World War II. Many Filipinos might claim that the US took advantage of us. I agree but let us not forget that the US handed us billions of dollars---if only these were used for their designated purposes, I really believe that our country could have been in a much better situation economically. We should blame ourselves for creating our own “Lernaean Hydra”. This is my guarantee of good governance under US sovereignty---if the Philippines is not doing well, it will be under the scrutiny of the US congress. There will still be corrupt officials but they cannot pocket “millions or billions" of US dollars. Therefore, I prefer “…crime against our children who will build our nation….”.
    Regarding your recommendations, I agree with them 100%. I just want to add that we do not need the technological assistance or training from the “USA”. We have all the intelligent Filipinos everywhere. If they decide to go home, we are covered. It is plain and clear that the “Filipino American Contribution” is IMPORTANT and that the US is necessary to take us “out of hell”. (If we were still under the sovereignty of the US, the benefits of a good education is just one of the perks.)
    About the international options, I do not know anything about this. But let us PUSH for any international option to prosecute the Ampatuans. If we can prosecute the Ampatuans, we can “probably” open the cases for the Marcos henchmen (Famine in Negros as main example)—and include the Marcoses in the mix. Of course this only possible when we have good governance in the future and have cut off the head of the “Hydra”.

  10. Thank u for such a thoughtful post, John. I couldn't agree with u more. But when I say "ancestors who built the nation," I'm not necessarily referring to the founding fathers (Rizal, Bonifacio), the heroes (Ninoy) or the political/economic elite who became our leaders (like Quezon, who had dubious allegiances, as u note) alone. I'm also referring to the ordinary men and women -- the peasants, workers, revolutionaries and honest folk -- who survived, with grit and courage, the horrors of Spanish colonial rule, the Japanese invasion and American occupation, to name just a few of their colossal struggles. As far as I'm concerned, THEY r the real lifeblood of the nation.

  11. Kudos for another provocative blog, Lila. The thought that all these events are seemingly from a masterfully drawn blueprint of conspiracy is menacing.

    Filipinos have been so calloused to incidents of corruption, inhumane crime such as the massacre that they quickly go through or even skip some steps in the DABDA process of dealing with any traumatic event(Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance). Yes we get angry for these heinous crimes, but we quickly accept and worse forget. How can we blame some of us? Philippine history has taught us that as long as you know the "right" people you can get away with just about anything. And if you are going to be pursued, there are always ways to get "rid" of your detractors.

    Before reading your blog, I was unfamiliar with some of the implied interconnections between Danding and FVR, why Cory did not pursue the Marcos henchmen, and the likes but this has started me on a research binge and try to bring into light some of these info. Yes, now I am asking the same question, why the lack of pusuit? For me, this has put a cloud of doubt on the Aquinos also and Noynoy (who was my #1 bet for Presidency) Would we see the same reservations from him when it comes to pursuing and addressing these scandals? This would definitely be a limiting qualification for him. I did not consider Noynoy to be the best candidate but he had a hairline of an edge from the other presidentiables. However, his lack of "substantial" and aggressive plan about the perpetrators is not doing him any good.

    The outcome of the Ampatuan trial will be the resounding determinant on which path our "leaders" will choose to take for our country. Let history repeat itself by letting the perpetrators (and I am talking about the mastermind) walk away or take back our country from the political agendas, from deadly manipulations, greed and selfish power hunger. Let this not fail us any longer because Filipinos are fighting back and tired of being terrorized by our own government. We can't have peace as long as "evil dictators, greedy money lovers, good governance assasins, tyrants are on top.

    In the words of Abraham Lincoln
    "We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution."

    Thanks again, Lila for a wonderful blog.

  12. And the Arroyo government should be included in the ICC filing, if only to record its having practically condoned past Maguindanao atrocities (murder of 2007 election rigging whistleblower, teacher Husma Dimasingsing, and abduction of two other teacher witnesses, among others). Now with the Ampatuan massacre, the Arroyo government seems to have planned the accommodation of a fall guy from the clan as well as the later freedom of this "creditor family" to whom Arroyo et al obviously owe so much.

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  14. Thanks, all. Compact, I just registered in Philippine Beat... ;-)