Friday, March 17, 2006

Rogues' gallery hit: Violation of presumption of innocence

Rogues' gallery hit: Violation of presumption of innocence
First posted 03:29am (Mla time) Mar 17, 2006

PUTTING up a "rogues' gallery" of purported coup plotters will violate the right to privacy and impose a "chilling effect" on all critics of the government, constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas and the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) said yesterday.

The CLCL also said the planned rogues' gallery -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's idea, according to Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez -- could constitute one more impeachable offense on Ms Arroyo's part.

The CLCL said it would file criminal and administrative charges against Gonzalez in the Office of the Ombudsman. The case will center on the "illegal" use of public funds to go after "personal enemies of the President," it added.

Bernas said the planned public display of pictures of 16 perceived enemies of the state was violative of their constitutional right of "presumption of innocence and privacy."

"It's something along the line of a police officer exhibiting people in public who have been arrested. If they have not been convicted [or] charged, they are presumed to be innocent and their dignity should be respected. There is the very serious assault on dignity, I think," said Bernas, dean emeritus of the Ateneo Law School and a columnist of the Inquirer.

Wild, Wild West

Asked to comment, Gonzalez said there was nothing illegal in the planned rogues' gallery.

"How can it be unconstitutional when [the funds] will be used for the arrest of fugitives from justice?" he said.

But Bernas pointed out that if there were "clear violations" by perceived enemies of the government and there were arrest warrants, they could be arrested and duly charged.

"No need for bounty," he said. "Bounty was very useful, I think, in the times of the Wild, Wild West... when they had posters all over the city [saying] 'Wanted dead or alive.'"

Gonzalez had earlier said the amounts to be offered for information leading to the arrest of the so-called "conspirators" had yet to be determined.

But some members of the Palace cluster on intelligence supposedly wanted the bounty to go as high as P10 million per head.


Lawyer Neri J. Colmenares said public money should not be spent on this "witch-hunt," which, he observed, was "generally against political dissenters."

Colmenares likewise said the public posting of the pictures of Ms Arroyo's perceived enemies was "a violation not only of [one's] constitutional right to privacy, but also of [one's] right to be presumed innocent."

"These are witch-hunting processes that use not only public funds but also the Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police, both public offices which should not be used for public persecution," he said.

Colmenares said the money would be better used to go after Jocelyn Bolante, the former agriculture undersecretary who was charged with graft for the P728-million fertilizer scam, and Virgilio Garcillano, the former election commissioner who was linked to the purported rigging of the 2004 elections.

The planned case against Gonzalez will be for culpable violation of Republic Act No. 3019 (the Anti-graft Law), which states that public officials "must act with justness and not discriminate against anyone," Colmenares said.


Lawyer Romeo Capulong of the Public Interest Law Center aired a similar opinion, saying the rogues' gallery would violate "the right to life and liberty" as well as the constitutional doctrine of presumption of innocence.

Capulong, counsel for the six party-list representatives listed, warned at a press conference that he would hold Gonzalez "criminally, civilly and administratively liable" if the Arroyo administration went ahead with its plan.

"We demand that you desist from your plan to malign, demonize and violate the fundamental rights of our clients," said Capulong, reading from a one-page letter he sent to Gonzalez yesterday.

"Such act will... result in the most extreme case of forcible abduction and summary execution by death squads identified with government forces who are now stalking our clients," he said.

He also said Gonzalez and Ms Arroyo were "making a mockery of the entire justice system."

Capulong is the legal counsel of Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño and Joel Virador, Anakpawis Representatives Rafael Mariano and Crispin Beltran, Gabriela Representative Liza Maza, and suspected communist rebels Vic Ladlad, Nathaniel Santiago, Randal Echaniz, Rey Claro Casambre, Tita Lubi and Rafael Baylosis.

'Just file charges'

Other legal eagles weighed in on the issue.

"If they have a list, they should just file charges. By talking about the list, they send a warning to everyone else so that the target is not just the people on the list but [others] who are in danger of being placed there," said Raul Pangalangan, former law dean of the University of the Philippines.

Anselmo Cadiz, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said Ms Arroyo's actions -- including the planned rogues' gallery and the use of public funds to go after Malacañang's perceived enemies -- would add to her long list of impeachable offenses.

License to kill

Mariano said a rogues' gallery was a clear threat against freedom, human rights and life itself because it would deprive him and his colleagues of due process and an "impartial, independent and effective" trial.

Ocampo warned that the plan would give law enforcement agencies the license to hunt, attack and even kill members and leaders of progressive groups.

Maza said unleashing bounty hunters was "a testament to this government's resort to the massacre of its political enemies."

"This is trial by publicity at its worst," she said. "There is no court that has passed judgment on us, yet [they] are already sentencing to death people critical of her administration."

Maza also said she would hold Ms Arroyo responsible for "whatever happens to us."

Said Virador: "To put up bounty money to hunt down suspected coup plotters flaunts the fascist, iron-hand approach of Ms Arroyo in dealing with the current political situation. This is also part of the total government crackdown on GMA's (Ms Arroyo’s) critics."

In bad faith

In the Netherlands, the chair of the National Democratic Front panel negotiating peace with the Arroyo administration said the latter acted in bad faith when it "converted" the list of people to be accorded immunity under the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) into a list of persons to be arrested.

"The Arroyo regime has converted a solemn and binding peace agreement into an instrument of fascist repression," said Luis Jalandoni.

"By this worst act of treachery and flagrant violation of the people's basic democratic rights, the regime is going down the path of all-out tyranny and war. It is bound to be met by the intensifying resistance of the people," he said.

The Philippine government and the NDF panel signed the JASIG on Feb. 24, 1995. The peace talks have been stalled for various reasons.

But under the JASIG, all peace negotiators, consultants, staffers and supporters of both sides who took part in the peace negotiations are covered by safety and immunity guarantees.

The agreement remains in effect, according to Jalandoni.

"Now, the Arroyo regime, in a most reprehensible act of bad faith, has put all those who were duly covered with safety and immunity guarantees on the wanted list, to be charged with rebellion and to be hunted down like criminals," Jalandoni said.

Among the NDF personalities on the list were Jalandoni himself and Jose Maria Sison, NDF chief political consultant and supposed founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Jalandoni said even the joint secretariat of the peace talks funded by the Dutch government was being threatened with political repression.

"Members of the joint secretariat and its staff, who generously agreed to the invitation of the NDF to help the joint monitoring committee of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, are now among those threatened with rebellion charges and arrest," he said. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and Norman Bordadora

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