Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Prosecutong the prosecutors

The following appears as an op-ed column at the Manila Standard Today. I was in a real hurry to get this column to press, I sent the wrong file, the one with a missing paragraph. The missing paragraph is: "To begin with, the career path of government workers are now limited as rooms at the top have been appropriated as political largasse by powers-that-be. It does not help of course that the chief executive seems bent on turning the whole government bureaucracy as her personal kingdom. "

Given the way things are in our country today, one who has talent has to be desperate, clueless, or a total masochist to consider a career in government. The aggravations that government employees have to contend with every day are simply enormous it appears being a government employee will soon be enough qualification for sainthood. It is not surprising that a government career is not anymore something that any bright young graduate aspires for.

The economic deprivation, I think, is bearable and is partly compensated by the psychological rewards that come out of serving people and knowing that one contributes to nation-building. But how does one cope with humiliation? How does one deal with public denunciation of one’s supposed incompetence? How does one live down accusations of corruption, with allegations of selling out a cause?

One can rage at the unfairness of it all. Or engage accusers in a tit for tat, calling them ingrates. Or one can simply take it all in stride as yet another hazard of the profession, another addition to the long list of things that just do not make sense but we have to accept because certain sacrifices must be made for the greater good.

I am glad that I am not any one of the government prosecutors assigned to the Subic rape case. Not only have they been accused of incompetence, selling out, insincerity, etc., they also have to contend with a boss who is apparently sabotaging their own case with his reckless and counterproductive statements.

This is truly one of the most mind-boggling paradoxes ever: We have a justice secretary who does not believe that the complainant was raped and accuses her of imagining things, and in the same breath, claims to be supporting her cause for justice. The logic just does not compute. How can you fight for something you do not believe in? But let’s not waste column space anymore on the justice secretary’s latest verbal hara kiri. I have this feeling he just does not care anymore what other people think or say of him anyway.

I know that the legal profession is a veritable snake pit but I also know that within the ranks of the profession are some of the most brilliant, most dedicated, and most upright individuals. I know a number of public prosecutors at the Department of Justice. I know for a fact that many of them are among the most dedicated, the most incorruptible, and the most competent people on Earth. Some of them are my coprofessors at the college where I teach. Another one sits in the board of the nongovernment organization I am associated with.

I am aware that they may not be representative of all prosecutors out there, but it is important to point out that sweeping generalizations are dangerous especially if these cast aspersion on the dignity and competence of the persons concerned.

Thus, I am alarmed at the way the victim in the Subic rape case, her family, and their supporters have turned the new twist in the whole imbroglio into a media event. The problem with this kind of media stunt—when accusations fly unrestrained and when reputations are soiled beyond repair—is that it invites more of the same. It deflects focus on the more important aspects of the case. It polarizes people and erodes support bases. More importantly, it desensitizes people slowly and somehow conditions them into accepting possible outrageous outcomes.

It has now become a battle of at least two versions of the truth.
If we are to believe the victim and her family, the government prosecutors are selling out the case. The government prosecutors are also being accused of incompetence. The victim’s main beef is the alleged sloppy way a government prosecutor conducted the cross-examination of the accused US serviceman.

If we are to believe the government prosecutors, the rape victim is lying about the alleged offer to settle the case, is an ingrate, and is being influenced by a private prosecutor whose militant orientation (anti-Visiting Forces Agreement) casts political color into the case.

A government prosecutor friend of mine thinks that the perception of incompetence is still borne out of the classic stereotype of how a brilliant lawyer is supposed to behave, usually a composite of Dustin Hoffman in And Justice For All and the lawyers in The Practice. There is still this view that a competent lawyer is one who spews fire and brimstone, able to bully witnesses and draw out dramatic confessions and admissions under heavy cross-examination, and enthralls the audience with his flamboyance and bravado. Thus, many lawyers actually feel compelled to do theatrics if only to impress their clients.

I am not sure if this stereotype is exactly what the rape victim expected, but I think that one cross-examination is not enough to merit a walkout and a mass denunciation. Unless the rape victim and her family are suffering from nerves that are already stretched taut to the limits, it is possible that there are other mitigating circumstances present that resulted in that unfortunate public tantrum. However, it is irresponsible to automatically jump the gun and make accusations particularly those that impugn another person’s competence.

It has become easy for anyone to attack government workers for incompetence, corruption, etc. Government workers have become easy targets for anyone with a criticism. Note how AM radio announcers, civic leaders, and most specifically, investigative broadcast journalists from some TV shows that enjoy ridiculing people, pounce on some hapless government worker accused of the simplest infraction. It is amazing that we expect our civil servants to behave with courtesy and dignity when these things are not afforded them in the first place.

It is possible that the rape victim and her family are telling the truth on this one (just as it is entirely possible that the government prosecutors are the ones that are correct). But as individuals who have been through the pain of being the object of ridicule and humiliation, is it asking too much that they can spare a little empathy for others, particularly those they work with in the pursuit of their cause? Surely they know what it is like to be at the receiving end of unsavory accusations.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Bong, for speaking for us lowly government employees. We can only grimace whenever we hear those cruel generalizations. After all "government employees" does not only include corrupt customs, BIR, etc officials. For example, they also include us in the state universities who are underpaid (regardless of PHDs and MScs) and overworked, but are still here trying to teach and do science to serve the nation. Yes, many of us government workers are dedicated and strive for excellence despite the "incredible" pay and the pitiful work environment. Candidate for sainthoods. Hahaha, I like that.
The hubby and I were reading the papers last weekend and we couldn't help but wonder whether the complainant in the Subic case and her family are trying to sabotage their own case. The affair has become sorrier and it may not favor her. Public opinion may even turn against her because of the very public fight that gets the focus elsewhere. Very unfortunate.
--MommyJo

vic said...

In a contested trial (sometimes a trial could be held to present agreed facts from both sides), both sides always insist theirs is the truth and the other the lies. That where the Judge or the Judge and the Jury come in, to decide which is which according to the evidence.

My beeps here, is when a Govt. Official (Justice Secretary) intervenes in any subtle way while the court proceeding is in the process, is just out of place and unfair to both sides. Also, what I often observe, the presiding judge can’t seem to take proper control of the proceeding. In a very serious and sensitive case as rape, it would also be very helpful if all the “so-called experts” to hold their tongues and pens and for the journalists and reporters just to report the progress of proceeding instead of being the prosecutors, defense councils, judges and juries.

Taga-Iyam said...

It is sad that Nichole and her mother are now accusing their defenders, the public prosecutors, ugly things.....di kaya nila naisip.....na walang lawyer na sumuot sa kaso para ipatalo......hindi nagsayang nang taong pag-aaral ang sinuman para lang matalo......moreso, this is a case involving Americans.....hindi na kaya nila inisip na pag nanalo ang mga prosecutors against this case, they will be in the "limelight". I am not a lawyer, but, I believe that any lawyer who walks into the court, has the biggest goal of winning their case. They can win their case if they will just cooperate with the lawyer......It is sad, but, following thru with the case as it is reported in the news...."mader....naghahanap ka ba nang dapat sisihin sa pagkukulang mo sa pagpapalaki nang iyong anak.... di po dadating sa ganitong kalagayan ang iyong anak, kung ang ating mga pagkukulang ay ating haharapin at di isisisi sa iba.... please, pick up the pieces that you can and embrace your daughter help her understand the pain that she is going thru....it took awhile for her to get this far.....with your help and guidance, she will survive....The pain is worst when blaming is an option.....!"

There are many honest people who work for the government....mas marami ang honest at hard working kaisa sa masama.....pasalamat tayo at mas marami pa ang nagpipilit iwasto ang mali.....let us continue to count our blessings and public employees are our blessings!

Trust the public prosecutors....their credibility....lies in their working with the victims....what good will it do them if they lost their case.....!